The United States government, including President Joe Biden’s White House, has joined calls for Canada to participate in a probe of cross-border pollution coming from coal mines in southern British Columbia. In a statement released last week, the U.S. State Department said Biden supports a joint investigation of selenium coming from Teck Resource’s Elk Valley coal mines, which flows into rivers and lakes south of the border.
“The (State) Department reaffirmed the administration’s support for a joint reference to the International Joint Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 for the Kootenai Basin regarding the transboundary impacts of mining,’’ says the statement issued Wednesday.
Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for a response. On June 2, spokesman Adrien Blanchard said in an email that Canada was “considering a variety of options.’’ The U.S. has been concerned about the Teck mines for years. The states of Montana and Idaho, eight American senators, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geological Survey and six First Nations from both sides of the border have all said selenium released by the mines threatens fish in their downstream waters.
Several of those groups have requested a reference from the International Joint Commission, which tries to mediate transboundary water disputes. References, an examination of the problem followed by recommendations, have almost always been conducted by both countries together.
The U.S. embassy in Ottawa said the State Department has been “in discussions’’ with Canada over the issue since September 2021. The U.S. ambassador has brought it up with B.C. Premier John Horgan, as has the U.S. consulate in Vancouver.
“There is an acute and long-standing need to reduce transboundary pollution from mining in the Kootenai Basin,’’ said a spokesman. “We want to work with our Canadian colleagues to promptly submit a joint reference to the (commission).’’
Canada and the U.S., through the commission, have worked jointly on problems in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain in Quebec and the Souris River basin in Manitoba.
The commission has said it’s willing to look at the matter and has asked Canada to participate. Now, the State Department has echoed that request.
In its release, it says Canada’s participation in an Elk Valley reference would lead to “impartial recommendations and transparent communication, build trust, and forge a common understanding of this issue among local, Indigenous, state, provincial, and federal governments as well as stakeholders and the public in both countries.’’
The release emphasizes First Nation concerns, underscoring “the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to strengthening Nation-to-Nation relationships.’’
“Support for a joint IJC reference reflects the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to protect public health; conserve our lands, waters, and biodiversity; and deliver environmental justice to communities overburdened by pollution.’’
By Bob Weber
The Canadian Press