Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area is a popular tourist location in Washington State. Unfortunately, the lake has accumulated wastes that have been dumped into the Columbia River from lead and zinc smelters in British Columbia. This December, a Federal District Court in Washington will determine whether it has jurisdiction over the Canadian company Teck Metals Ltd., which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Advocates for Washington State, along with Native Americans from the Colville Reservation in Washington argue that Teck has intentionally polluted Lake Roosevelt for decades, and now subject to the Superfund Law, must pay to clean the pollution, which is expected to cost $1 billion. The pollution is in the form of fine black sand and it washes downstream into Lake Roosevelt, affecting the Washington beaches where people swim and camp.
Last month, Teck admitted that some of the pollution it had dumped into the Columbia River between 1896 and 1955 flowed into the United States. This prevented the need for a trial on the source of the pollution, and allowed the parties to move to the issue of who now has to pay for the cleaning up of Lake Washington. Teck feels it is not subject to jurisdiction in the United States because it is a Canadian corporation, it does no business in the United States, and it did not expressly aim its conduct at Washington. Teck also argues that it is unknown how much of this black sand even settled in Washington, that most of it probably passed through the lake, and that the sand sediments would have caused little if any environmental damage.
Teck’s other major argument is that almost 1,000 metals mines and mills have operated on the Columbia River since the late 19th century, so they are not solely to blame. The company also acknowledges that Lake Washington is still used for boating, fishing, swimming, camping, and other water activities. The water is fine to play in, and the fish is fine to eat.
To help their cause, Teck has engaged in a study under the direction of the EPA. The company has spent more than $55 million and claim that the preliminary findings are positive, but that the study must be completed before any major decisions can be made. Looking at this case from the defendant company’s point of view, holding Teck responsible could be seen as interfering with the sovereignty of Canada. Canada has even sent a diplomatic note of protest to the State Department in Washington.
The Native American tribes involved here argue that their land, water, and other natural resources have been polluted, and that at least 8.7 million tons of this sedimentary discharge has ended up in Washington. They feel that since Teck Metals directly caused the pollution (admittedly), that they should also be responsible for the cleanup.
Do you think that Teck should be subject to the U.S Superfund Law and should thus have to clean up the pollution? Should the United States even have jurisdiction over the Canadian company or is Teck not subject to U.S. jurisdiction because of its lack of contacts with Washington? It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the next couple of months. This case will certainly test international law, but I would imagine that due to Teck’s admitted intentional dumping and the effects it has had in Washington, that the Federal District Court will hold the company liable.