Thursday, January 10, 2008

United States Supreme Court won't review a $1 Billion Dollar Ruling against Teck Cominco Mining Corporation for Clean-up of Columbia River

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court declined Monday to intervene in an unusual case in which a Canadian company was held subject to the U.S. Superfund law for polluting the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest.

A federal appeals court last year ruled that Teck Cominco Ltd., based in Vancouver, British Columbia, could have to pay a share of an estimated $1 billion to clean up Lake Roosevelt, a 150-mile stretch of the upper Columbia River behind Grand Coulee Dam.

The Columbia has been polluted for a century with heavy metals and black slag leaching downstream from Teck Cominco's lead and zinc smelter complex in Trail, British Columbia, 10 miles north of the U.S. border and about 135 miles north of Spokane.

The company asked the justices to overturn the appeals court ruling, arguing that the Superfund law does not apply to a Canadian company discharging hazardous waste unless it "arranged" (whereas acts of stupidity are okay?) for the contamination to end up in the United States. The pollution resulted from an "action of nature" (the force of gravity to be specific)— the southward flow of the river from Canada into the United States — the company said in court papers.

Solicitor General Paul Clement advised the court not take case for technical legal reasons. But Clement noted that the company discharged millions of tons of hazardous substances into the river just north of the border for 90 years. Likening the discharges to firing a gun across the border, Clement said that "it was inevitable that the river would carry the pollution directly into the United States."

U.S. and Canadian business interests as well as the British Columbia government urged the court to take the case. Left untouched, the appeals court ruling would complicate international relations and affect trade, they said in several briefs in support of Teck Cominco.

Under orders from provincial government regulators, Teck Cominco stopped discharging slag into the river in 1994 after Canadian studies showed the waste was toxic to fish and aquatic life.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year reached a voluntary settlement with Teck Cominco to study the extent and seriousness of the contamination. The company will pay about $20 million for the study.

(Had this happened in Chile the government would have taken care of it: Chile's Government fines itself for polluting the environment )

Here is the full article.