Kaiser Aluminum Corp. and an Eastern Washington environmental group have settled a dispute over alleged water pollution at the Mead aluminum smelter.
Maintaining it did not pollute a stream that feeds the Little Spokane River, Kaiser agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in November by Citizens for a Clean Columbia, a Kettle Falls-based organization.
Judge Alan McDonald is expected to sign the agreement, which requires Kaiser to pay $27,000 to fund a Washington Toxics Coalition program for pollution prevention in Spokane. The remaining $8,000 will go to the Colville Indian Tribe water quality laboratory and U.S. Treasury.
“This isn’t simply asking for compliance with the law, it’s seeking to change Kaiser’s behavior to go beyond compliance,” said Charles Tebbutt, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore., which represented Citizens.
Citizens’ suit used Kaiser’s own daily reports to show that the 50-year-old smelter had exceeded pollution limits 400 times in the past three years. Under the federal Clean Water Act, Kaiser faced fines up to $10 million.
But Bernard Leber, Kaiser’s Northwest environmental affairs manager, said the claims were misleading and lacked the backing of the state Department of Ecology.
The “pollution” that Kaiser reported was largely standing dirt from storm water, cooling systems, boilers and treated sewage, he said. None of the discharged water was in contact with chemicals used to make aluminum.
Ecology took no action against Kaiser. It recommended that the company dredge a 1.5 milliongallon settling pond, which feeds into Dead Man’s Creek. Kaiser plans to dredge the basin this summer, Leber said.
“The lawsuit attempted to second-guess a state agency,” Leber said.