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Ktunaxa Nation ‘appalled’ by Teck appealing environmental penalties

Teck Metals Corp. has filed an appeal to the B.C. government with hopes to reduce fines levied against the company for violating several environmental laws.

The company racked up about $16.5-million in penalties in January in three separate fines.

Teck was slapped with the biggest fine for being late on its agreement to have the Fording River south water treatment facility up and running by Dec. 31, 2018.

Other administrative penalties were doled out for the mining operations going over the limit of selenium and nitrate effluent on multiple occasions.

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“During the time frames outlined in the penalty determinations, hundreds of thousands of kilograms of untreated contaminants—which were required to be treated—instead entered the Elk and Kootenay rivers,” said Ktunaxa Nation chair Kathryn Teneese.

Environmental group Wildsight puts some of the blame back on the B.C. government as well.

“The pattern of non-compliance that has led up to deteriorating water quality is in large part due to the fact that the province has not done a very good job at regulating the coal industry,” said Wyatt Petryshen, mining policy and impacts researcher with Wildsight.

“I think if these fines get reduced, it definitely points a finger at the province not being able to be a responsible regulator. It also calls for the need for some kind of other body to make sure that the environment and communities are protected from contaminants entering the watershed from these coal mines.”

Previous: Teck fined over $16.5-million for environmental violations in the Kootenays (Feb 8, 2023)

Ktunaxa Nation officials said they are appalled by this move.

“Despite reporting revenues exceeding $10 billion from its coal business unit in 2022, Teck Coal Ltd. has chosen to file appeals to the January 2023 decisions by the Ministry of the Environment,” said the Ktunaxa Nation.

Wildsight is standing with the Ktunaxa Nation’s stance on the issue.

“If the government lets them off easy, I think it shows that the B.C. government hasn’t been doing its job,” said Petryshen. “If I was the federal government and I was seeing the province is still neglecting its duty to make sure the watershed remains clean, I would be looking into making sure an international joint watershed board does get formed, despite the province’s wishes.”

The initial news of the company receiving fines was encouraging for the Ktunaxa Nation, which officials said included the recognition of Ktunaxa perspectives, jurisdiction, and involvement in trying to protect ʔa·kxam̓ is q̓api qapsin (All Living Things), including water.

“These determinations demonstrate that provincial regulatory enforcement action is finally moving to hold industry accountable for its pollution in the Elk Valley,” said the KNC.

According to the KNC, Teck does not deny it failed to comply with the permit but it is still attempting to have those penalties reduced.

“That Teck would use legal avenues to avoid and minimize responsibility rather than taking accountability for harms to the environment by paying these penalties and improving its performance is disappointing,” said Teneese. “Particularly given that KNC’s involvement was significant in informing the ministry’s decisions and penalties.”

The KNC said it is disappointed to see Teck choose this route.

“The Ktunaxa Nation Council views these appeals as disrespectful to both Ktunaxa exercising jurisdiction in their homelands and the regulatory regime intended to protect the environment, particularly when considering that the penalties issued to Teck amount to a mere 0.16 per cent  of the company’s 2022 coal revenues,” said the Ktunaxa Nation.

Petryshen puts that dollar amount into perspective.

“The point of the fines is to act like a deterrent and a way to make sure future non-compliances aren’t happening,” said Petryshen. “If you look at the average salary of someone in British Columbia, which is about $57,000, the fine Teck received would be $91.”

The Ktunaxa Nation said it will continue advocating for ʔa·kxam̓ is q̓api qapsin, and support compliance, enforcement actions and processes, including the decision made by the Ministry of Environment against Teck in January.

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