Guest Column

Hold Glencore Accountable for Cleaning Up Montana Waters

With a troubling track record of poor corporate responsibility, Switzerland-based multinational conglomerate Glencore has major holdings in the headwaters of both the Kootenai and Flathead drainages

By Jim Vashro

A foreign company, Glencore, with a troubling track record of poor corporate responsibility, has major holdings in the headwaters of both the Kootenai and Flathead drainages.

The Switzerland-based multinational conglomerate Glencore is responsible for cleaning up legacy pollution from the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company plant on the Flathead River at a cost of nearly $1 billion, according to recent Environmental Protection Agency estimates. It is also attempting to acquire coal mines in British Columbia which are releasing elevated amounts of selenium into Lake Koocanusa. An independent study found that cleaning up that mess will cost $4.7 billion. 

As a former Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries manager for this area, I can attest that both river systems–the Flathead and Kootenai–cannot handle any more pollution. Pressures from increased population, a changing climate and many other factors are stressing our fish populations to the limit. 

Glencore has a mixed history of corporate responsibility. A recent report from the government of British Columbia shows the company is already underbonded on other mines it owns in the province, and its guilty plea on foreign bribery and market manipulation charges in the United States resulted in a $1 billion fine. 

Montana derives no jobs or significant economic benefits from either CFAC or the mines in Canada, just pollution. As Montanans we try to balance conservation and natural resource development but in this case the scales are tipped in favor of a foreign company that has yet to live up to its responsibility to solve the problems it’s responsible for in our state. 

What’s the solution? We need all our leaders, both in Helena and Washington, D.C., to get on our side and hold Glencore responsible for both of these problems. 

We need to make sure the processes that are underway – both a complete clean-up of CFAC overseen by the EPA and the bilateral U.S.-Canada IJC referral for the Kootenai River – deliver real results for Montana. Montana must have a seat at the table in both cases to ensure we don’t get left holding the bag.

We have an opportunity to make sure we get it right through the critical work that’s just begun to clean up these rivers. To do that, Montana’s leaders must make sure this company is held to account. 

Jim Vashro is the former Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Regional Director for Region 1 (northwest Montana).