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Judge Declines to Dismiss Pollution Suit

by Shannon Dininny
Environmental News Network, November 9, 2004

YAKIMA, Wash. -- A federal judge on Monday refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing a Canadian mining company of polluting the Columbia River with heavy metals for decades.

Teck Cominco Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, had argued the lawsuit should be thrown out because the U.S. government cannot impose rules on Canadian companies that operate on Canadian soil.

U.S. District Judge Alan McDonald disagreed, saying the United States' environmental laws are intended to clean up pollution inside U.S. borders, regardless of where it originates.

"The Upper Columbia River Site is a 'domestic condition' over which the United States has sovereignty and legislative control," McDonald wrote in a ruling issued in Yakima.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contends that heavy-metal pollutants flowed for decades down the Columbia River from Teck Cominco's giant smelter into Washington state waters. The lead-zinc smelter is about 10 miles north of the border.

Late last year, the federal agency demanded that the company pay to study how extensive the pollution was and point to a remedy.

The Colville Confederated Tribes of Eastern Washington sued the company in July for failing to comply with that order, and the state of Washington joined the lawsuit two months later.

D.R. Michel, one of two tribal members who filed suit, expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

"We've been on this river for thousands of years, and what we're mainly fighting for now is the future of the river and Lake Roosevelt and the legacy we leave our kids," he said.

Lake Roosevelt is the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam.

An attorney for Teck Cominco and a company spokesman did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment Monday night.

Teck Cominco had argued that as a Canadian company, the Canadian government, not the U.S. government, should regulate it.

An EPA spokesman said the agency was pleased with the ruling.

"The judge agreed that Teck Cominco has deposited its waste into U.S. waters and is responsible for that waste," spokesman Bill Dunbar said. "We believe the company, not U.S. taxpayers, ought to deal with that problem."

Shannon Dininny
Judge Declines to Dismiss Pollution Suit
Environmental News Network, November 9, 2004

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