Montana Public Radio

Coal Project On Kootenai River Tributary To Undergo Further Review

Aug 19, 2020

The expansion of a British Columbia coal mine upstream of Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River will undergo review from the federal Canadian government. The decision handed down Wednesday will apply more scrutiny to the project.

British Columbia's provincial government was initially going to conduct the environmental assessment for the Castle Mountain coal mine expansion project, but Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson issued a decision stating the project would undergo a more intensive federal review after receiving several requests to do so.

The project is an expansion of Teck Resources’ Fording River operation about 100 miles north of the Montana-Canada border. The mine sits on the Elk River, which is a tributary to Lake Koocanusa and the Kootenai River.

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey have attributed high selenium levels in both the lake and river to Teck and other coal mining operations in British Columbia. Selenium is known to impact fish reproduction.

Credit Flickr user oatsy40 (CC-BY-2)

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes along with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho were the first to formally request that the project receive an environmental assessment from the federal Canadian government. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also made a request.

CSKT Department of Natural Resources head Rich Janssen says a federal review will apply more scrutiny to the project.

"We just noticed for many years the province of B.C., the state of Montana and Teck Mining have separately, and at times collectively, have promised to fix existing problems and for many years, have failed to yield improvements to water quality."

In an emailed statement, Teck Resources called Minister Wilkinson’s decision “unfortunate” and said the provincial environmental review process is “rigorous.”

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality welcomed the decision. It comes as DEQ is working to set a Selenium standard by the end of the year in conjunction with British Columbia, although there’s nothing preventing the provincial government from setting a more lenient standard or not setting one at all.