Environmental Protection

High Court Won't Shield Canadian Firm from Suit

The U.S. 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.

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