- Associated Press
Monday, March 29, 2021

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - A Canadian coal company has paid a $60 million fine after pleading guilty in federal court involving pollution discharges blamed for killing most fish in nearby waters in Canada and harming fish downstream in Montana and Idaho.

Investigators in Canada found Teck Resources Limited discharged hazardous amounts of selenium and calcite into the Fording River from two coal mines north of Eureka, Montana, the Missoulian reported Sunday.

Investigators also said some selenium was connected to fish damage in Montana’s Koocanusa Reservoir and the Kootenai River, resulting in new water quality standards last year imposed by the state Board of Environmental Review.

Selenium is a trace element that causes reproductive damage in fish and other animals. Calcite, or limestone powder, blocks the growth of plants and insects the fish eat.

The company avoided a full trial by reaching a financial settlement in Canadian federal court. Teck Resources President Don Lindsay apologized on Friday and took responsibility for the damage, saying the company invested about $1 billion in water treatment facilities and pledged to spend up to $655 million more over the next four years to further protect nearby waters.

“Again, to the Ktunaxa First Nation, whose territory we operate on, and to our communities in the Elk Valley, we deeply regret these impacts and we apologize,” Lindsay said. “You have my commitment that we will not waver in our focus on addressing this challenge and working to ensure that the environment is protected for today and for future generations.”

The $60 million fine is 10 times as large as any previous punishment imposed under Canada‘s Fisheries Act.

Lars Sanders-Green of conservation group Wildsight said, “between 2017 and 2019, we saw the disappearance of 93% of the adult westslope cutthroat trout.”

He added: “There’s about 100 fish left in the Upper Fording River tributaries, well below what’s needed to be self-sustaining.”

Teck Resources mines coal by mountaintop removal and sells it to foundries for steel and metal production. Sanders-Green said the market for metallurgic coal remains strong despite economic challenges in energy-producing coal mines.

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