Teck Resources has agreed to a fine of $60 million for releasing releasing selenium and calcite into the Elk and Fording rivers in southeast British Columbia during 2012.
Selenium is a contaminant common to coal mines. It can cause fish deformities and reproductive failures in large amounts.
Calcite is a mineral that coats stream bottoms, destroying the habitat that trout need to reproduce.
Fording and Elk rivers feed the Columbia, one of North America’s largest river systems. It crosses into the USA about 12 km southeast of Trail BC. The international impact of Teck’s pollution has been a driving force behind prosecution of the company. Yet, legal settlement of the matter took almost a decade to resolve.
And, as usual, Indigenous people were victims of industrial pollution. In this case it was the local Ktunaxa First Nation.
A $60 million dollar fine may sound substantial but Teck is a company with over $40 billion in assets and more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue. That fine is equivalent to $72 to a person holding $50,000 in assets.
A paper written for the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance in the 1990s discussed structured fines, these are:
…based on a simple concept: punishment by a fine should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offense and should have roughly similar impact (in terms of economic sting) on persons with differing financial resources…
I suggest Teck should be paying a fine closer to $1 billion. What Teck has been penalized will make no dent in their cash resources. Nor does it resolve the fresh water issues. According to The Narwhal:
There are no viable solutions to stop the tide of selenium leaching into Canadian and U.S. water from a 100-kilometre stretch of coal mines owned and operated by mining giant Teck Resources. Deformed fish, a potential fish population collapse and contaminated drinking water signal more trouble to come
But laws of Canada and many other countries are formulated to punish the poor most harshly and the rich most tenderly. As long as we vote for parties that pay obeisance to privilege, nothing will change.
It is reported in late March 2021 that Teck Resources affiliate Neptune Terminals has agreed to a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty in the death of a worker. According to the North Shore News:
Donald Jantz, 53, was cleaning the coal terminal’s stacker reclaimer on Oct. 22, 2018 when a metal grate gave way below his feet and he fell 17 metres to his death.
During the investigation, it came to light that Neptune had been warned by engineers several times that the grate’s clips were prone to becoming loose after jostling and needed to be replaced with something safer, the North Vancouver provincial court heard at the March 26 sentencing hearing.
Initially, the company was charged with 10 counts under the Canada Labour Code, but the Crown and Neptune agreed to a deal that saw the company plead guilty to one charge of failing to ensure employee health and safety is protected. They also agreed a $250,000 fine would be appropriate, although at the “high end” of fines issued to an employer following the death of a worker in Canada.
Neptune Terminals is a joint venture of Teck Resources (C$41 billion assets) and Canpotex, a company owned by The Mosaic Company (C$25 billion assets) and Nutrien (C$55 billion assets).
The impact of a $250,000 fine to companies with $121 billion in assets is like ten cents to a person with $50,000 in assets.
Without punishment that causes pain, large corporations treat penalties as license fees. Teck in particular has a long record of polluting lands and waters, not to mention the coal mining company’s massive contributions to climate change.
The U.S. government is increasingly concerned about pollution from British Columbian mines, following new research that shows contaminants in a river south of the border came from Canada.
In a letter obtained by The Canadian Press, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is demanding the provincial government hand over data explaining why Teck Resources coal mines in southern B.C. are being allowed to exceed guidelines for a toxic heavy metal.
“The EPA … finds it unacceptable that the province has accepted [a treatment plan] that will allow seasonal exceedances of water quality objectives into the future,” says the Feb. 4 letter to B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman…