Canadian mining company Teck Cominco Metals Ltd. must pay the legal expenses of two members of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who sued the company over its pollution of the Columbia River in the United States.
A federal judge in Spokane last week also ordered the company to reimburse the Colville Tribes for more than $1 million it spent on the case in the past five years.
The tribe and two of its members sued the company in an effort to force it to comply with U.S. law on operations of its giant zinc smelter in Trail, B.C. The smelter, 10 miles north of the U.S. border, released hazardous substances directly into the Columbia River for a century. That ended in 1994.
“The judge sent a clear message that the tribe’s efforts, and in particular, the citizen suit by Joseph Pakootas and Donald Michel, are what compelled Teck to begin addressing the environmental harm it has caused,” said Virgil Seymour, a member of the Colville Business Council.
It hadn’t yet been determined how much Teck Cominco must pay for Pakootas’ and Michel’s legal expenses. Officials for Teck Cominco did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday. Teck Cominco has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A decade ago, the Colville Tribes petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess contamination in Lake Roosevelt.
In 2003, the EPA decided that Teck Cominco was subject to the U.S. Superfund law, because releases from the smelter had traveled down the river into the United States. The agency demanded the company pay for studies to determine the extent of the contamination, and then clean it up.