Teck’s Pollution Legacy

Teck has created an enormous problem in the Kootenai watershed

By LaVerne Sultz

Dave Skinner (June 10 Beacon: “Not All Science is Equal”) continues muckraking and declaring Montana scientists and conservation organizations guilty by association, while ending his own opinion piece with the bold statement that Teck Resources of British Columbia will fix its pollution of the Kootenai River by spending billions.

In Dave’s opinion, it seems, he’d like scientists and former high ranking state employees to stay in their lanes and not exercise either their knowledge or, god forbid, their constitutional rights to free speech, even when backed by more facts and professional experiences than Dave could dream of. Easy to criticize, Dave, hard to walk in others’ shoes.

I was amused by Dave’s further, qualified, declaration that, “If Teck succeeds, and I think they will” statement. Little unsure there, eh, Dave? You should be.

Teck has created an enormous problem in the Kootenai watershed. Teck’s five Elk Valley mountaintop removal coal mines are polluting the Elk River at levels up to 100 times the provincial “guidelines” for selenium, and that selenium crosses into Montana above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standard. The only way Teck can abate those concentrations of selenium (and other contaminants) is by building and running multi-million dollar water treatment plants and running them, basically, forever.

Due to a poor record getting their water treatment plants to work, Teck is now moving to a new technology known as “Saturated Rock Fill.” Basically this treatment plan involves dumping the tailings in a hole in the ground and saturating the rock with millions of gallons of clean water, then waiting forever to see what happens.

What does “forever” mean in this context. Let’s round it down to a thousand years. Will Teck be around for a thousand years? Doubt it. Who will operate those water treatment plants or rock-filled pits for a thousand years? Who will pay for their operation, millions per year? I’d guess no one. But that’s just an opinion based on the solid track record of many B.C. and even U.S. mining operations. They privatize the profits, make the costs public.

Well, if Teck’s pollution legacy is going to be around forever, what is Montana going to get out of the deal? Right now, we get polluted water, an impaired Koocanusa and Kootenai River, and potential economic limitations for Lincoln County and downstream.

Society does have some hard choices to make regarding where, when and how to mine. The Elk Valley coal mines are a case in point. Alternatives exist to making steel without coal and society is beginning to wean itself from highly polluting coal.

The government granted Teck new mine expansion permits even while the company’s pollution grossly exceeds provincial guidelines. On top of that, the B.C. government has before it two new mine ventures for the Elk Valley proposed by newcomer companies.

Given that the mines will pollute, as stated earlier, forever, should these new mines be permitted? What does Montana say about that? What’s in it for Montana anyway?

LaVerne Sultz

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