Montana Public Radio

Tester Wants Crackdown On Canada's Upstream Selenium Pollution

Jun 9, 2021

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester Wednesday asked the U.S. State Department to put pressure on an international commission and the Canadian government to stem pollution flowing into northwest Montana from British Columbia coal mines. 

Tester penned a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken asking him to get the International Joint Commission involved in the decades-long issue of selenium leaching from coal mines in British Columbia’s Elk Valley into the transboundary Lake Koocanusa watershed. Selenium is a naturally occurring element, but at the high levels documented in the lake, it can impact fish reproduction.

Senator Jon Tester (D) - Montana
Credit U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The International Joint Commission is charged with investigating transboundary water issues under the Boundary Waters Treaty signed by the U.S. and Canada.

Montana environmental officials and scientists engaged in a multi-year effort with their B.C. counterparts to set a joint selenium standard for Lake Koocanusa. Montana set a selenium standard for its side of the lake in late 2020, which was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in February.

The B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy in a written statement to MTPR says it’s committed to setting a selenium standard, but did not directly respond to Sen. Tester’s request for IJC involvement.