High Court Won't Shield Canadian Firm from Suit
Supreme Court declined to intervene in a case over whether a Canadian
company should be held subject to the U.S. Superfund law.
In rejecting Teck Cominco Metals' request for review, the court let
stand the federal appeals court decision that allowed members of the
Colville Confederated Tribes to sue Teck Cominco in federal court (Teck Cominco Metals, LTD. vs. Pakootas, Joseph A., et al., No. 06-1188, Jan. 7, 2008).
"We are of course very pleased with this decision," said Virgil
Seymour, a member of the Colville Business Council. "As the case now
stands, the courts have ruled that the U.S. has jurisdiction over Teck
Cominco under the United States' Superfund law for the pollution it
created in the United States."
For nearly 100 years, Teck Cominco's Trail, B.C., smelter discharged
more than 20 million tons of slag and wastes that contained metals like
lead, zinc, mercury, arsenic and other toxins. The smelter is located
just a few miles north of the U.S. border on the Columbia River.
On July 16, 2004, tribal leaders Joseph Pakootas and D.R. Michel
filed suit against Teck Cominco Metals. Supported by the Colville
Business Council and the state of Washington, the lawsuit aimed to
force compliance with a U.S. EPA unilateral administrative order to
study contamination in and around Lake Roosevelt.
Teck Cominco and EPA have since signed a private settlement
agreement to investigate contamination at the site, but progress has
been disappointing, critics contend.
"The tribe is not a party to this agreement, and we don't have
confidence in it because it is outside the framework of U.S.
environmental law," Seymour stated. "The reality is that after two
years of work, there's been little progress made. We still don't
understand the extent of contamination or its impacts on the
environment, tribal members or other people here."
The case will be returned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit and remanded to the district court of the Eastern District of
Washington for further proceedings.