Industrial landscape: Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
The Elk River Valley is situated in southeastern B.C. along the Alberta border and is home to five large open-pit coal mines, supplying a third of the world's steel-making coal. For many years increased selenium, phosphate and nitrate levels have been linked to the continued expansion of the mining. Selenium levels continue to exceed the guidelines for human health.
From Teck’s five open-pit Elk Valley coal mines, selenium-contaminated water is flowing south from the Elk River into Koocanusa Reservoir and the Kootenai River in Montana. Both Southeastern BC and Northwestern Montana are famous for their trout fishing, but selenium pollution builds up in trout, causing birth defects or complete failure to hatch. While BC won’t accept risky Alberta bitumen crossing our rivers or in the Salish Sea, we’ve taken a much softer stance on our own pollution flowing to our neighbours.
Without real changes to the way we mine, BC is on track to leave an international toxic legacy that will keep flowing for many hundreds of years.
The State of Montana, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the American tribes of the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation are fed up with years of broken promises and secrecy from Teck and BC, while more and more dangerous selenium crosses their border in Lake Koocanusa. Selenium levels in fish in the lake are rising steadily, threatening their ability to reproduce. With discussions across the BC/Montana border yielding no real results, our American neighbours have pushed the issue onto the agenda for the regular bilateral meetings between our federal governments, with the first discussion in late April.
While Montanans are asking if the Boundary Waters Treaty, which prohibits polluting waterways that cross the border, is being violated, BC appears to be saying nothing and hoping that the problem just goes away. Meanwhile, Teck has hired high-powered lobbying firms in Montana and in Washington, DC to fight against federal intervention.
And it’s not just Montana that’s downstream of BC’s mining pollution. In Alaska, acid rock drainage from the defunct Tulsequah Chief Mine has been flowing across the border in the Taku River for 60 years, putting salmon at risk—and BC still doesn’t have any plans to clean up the mine site. Meanwhile, BC is rushing approval for new mining developments along the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers, which all flow into Alaska.
Teck Mining is working to implement selenium management strategies