Senator Jon Tester urges US Government to address coal mining pollution concerns of Lake Koocanusa

by Keith Powell
U.S. Senator Jon Tester.

U.S. Senator Jon Tester. — Photo: US Senate Official Photograph

The Kalispell Flathead Beacon newspaper recently ran a report that “U.S. Sen. Jon Tester is again urging the Obama administration to address pervasive concerns surrounding transboundary water-quality issues on Lake Koocanusa, …where coal mines are leaching hazardous contaminants into the downstream watershed.”

According to the newspaper, “Following a visit to Libby, Tester, a Democrat, wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging the administration to furnish protections on Lake Koocanusa, a major driver of Northwest Montana’s economy and home to a suite of native aquatic species.”

“In the letter, Tester urged the administration to take steps to protect the Kootenai River watershed, which is threatened by the expansion of coal mining in the Elk River Valley of British Columbia.”

Tester also wrote, “Montana and British Columbia share abundant natural resources and each of our respective economies depend on world-class opportunities for fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation. The long-term health of the Elk River and Kootenai River watersheds is critically important, and we must address the full scope of potential impacts to Montana’s water quality.”

“Last year, Tester was approached by local organizations and American Indian tribes to express concern that increased coal mining in British Columbia would further put the fish and habitat of Lake Koocanusa at risk, and last summer he relayed those concerns to Secretary Kerry, along with a call to action,” stated the Beacon article.

The Flathed Beacon also noted, “In May, the British Columbia Auditor General released a two-year audit chastising provincial mine regulators for “a decade of neglect in compliance and enforcement,” highlighting the coal mines above Lake Koocanusa as particularly egregious examples. We found almost every one of our expectations for a robust compliance and enforcement program within the (Ministry of Energy and Mines) and the (Ministry of Environment) were not met,” B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer wrote in the introduction to the report.

In February, leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes formally requested that the federal government refer the impaired watershed to the International Joint Commission, joining with the Ktunaxa National Council and the Council of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho in making the request.”

In a letter to the editor of the Flathead Beacon a Teck Resources spokesperson responded with the following letter,

“I am writing in response to the Oct. 26 article “Senator Pushes to Protect Health of Lake Koocanusa,” in order to provide your readers with a more complete picture of the work underway on both sides of the border to safeguard our shared environment.

The fact is extensive work is being undertaken in cooperation between government agencies, First Nations, scientists, academics and industry, to carry out studies and to take action to ensure that the aquatic health of Lake Koocanusa and the Elk River watershed is protected.

A key part of that effort is the Lake Koocanusa Research and Monitoring Working Group, which brings together public and private stakeholders to provide ongoing oversight of environmental work related to water quality and aquatic health. The working group includes representatives from the state of Montana, Teck, federal agencies such as Environment Canada and the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Geological Survey and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Ktunaxa Nation, among others.

Teck is also implementing the Elk Valley Water Quality Plan, a comprehensive approach to safeguarding the health of the watershed, developed in cooperation with governments in Canada and the U.S. as well as First Nations, U.S. Tribes, and scientific experts. Under the plan, we are constructing water treatment facilities at our steelmaking coal mines in B.C., the first of which became fully operational earlier this year. That facility is now successfully reducing concentrations of substances such as selenium and nitrate in the watershed, and helping improve water quality downstream.

Teck is committed to continuing to work cooperatively with stakeholders in the U.S. and Canada to ensure the health of the watershed is maintained for generations to come.”

Marcia Smith, senior vice president,
Sustainability and External Affairs

Source: Flathead Beacon – Kalispell, Montana

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