Teck’s proposed sale of its Elk Valley coal mines to Glencore, a large mining company with a poor environmental record, raises environmental concerns that the water pollution disaster in the Elk and Kootenay Rivers could get even worse. The proposed sale should not proceed prior to the transboundary water pollution issue having been referred to the International Joint Commission (IJC), as demanded by the transboundary Ktunaxa Nation, Wildsight and others.
“We need the IJC to independently investigate the total extent of the pollution and the true costs for its complete remediation in the Elk-Kootenay river system,” states Randal Macnair, Wildsight Elk Valley Conservation Coordinator.
For decades now, mountaintop removal coal mining has leached selenium, nitrates, sulphites and other pollutants into the Elk-Kootenay river system. Teck’s operations have damaged the environment and impacted sensitive animals like the westslope cutthroat trout. In 2021, Teck was fined $60 million for polluting rivers and killing fish, the largest fine ever handed down for offences under the federal Fisheries Act.
Glencore, a Swiss mining company, comes to the table with an even worse track record than Teck. The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre said in a 2022 report that Glencore “has the worst human rights record among miners of metals used in renewable energy.” Closer to home, Glencore is the former owner of Montana’s Anaconda Aluminum Company. Now a Superfund site because of ongoing water pollution, the US government is spending tens of millions of dollars to clean up this industrial catastrophe.
“Allowing Glencore to take control of Teck’s coal mines could be disastrous,” says Mcnair. “Fish populations have collapsed, municipal and other drinking water wells have been contaminated, and streambeds have been cemented with calcite with no end in sight. Shifting the ownership of these mines to a multinational mining company with a very poor environmental record could make things much worse.
“Money for cleanup must be a top priority before any transfer of ownership takes place. Adequate funds must be held to cover the costs of reclamation as well as water quality and environmental remediation so Canadian taxpayers aren’t left holding the bill of cleanup and the environmental cost isn’t ignored,” continues Macnair.
Reclamation bonds are estimated by mining companies as the amount needed to clean up a mine site. BC usually requires these funds be held by the Ministry of Mines until the site is inspected and approved. Currently, Glencore has not coughed up the money needed to reclaim three other BC mines under their ownership (Granisle property northwest of Prince George, Boss Mountain Mine east of Williams Lake and Brenda Mine west of Peachland). In total, Glencore is missing approximately $8.5 million from these reclamation bonds.
Meanwhile, while Teck has estimated $1.9 billion will be needed for reclamation in the Elk Valley, the company has not paid more than $400 million of that amount.
“Teck has already spent more than a billion dollars on water treatment that only handles a small portion of the water pollution coming from the mines,” says Macnair. “The true cost to clean up and to treat the water flowing into the Elk River for centuries to come could easily be more than the $8.9 billion purchase price and will certainly be many multiples of the $150 million commitment to water quality Glencore has announced as part of the deal.”