A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court decision finding a Canadian company is liable for polluting the Upper Columbia River in a hard-fought lawsuit between the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the largest lead and zinc mining company in the world.
In a 55-page opinion issued Sep. 14, federal appellate court judges Ronald M. Gould, Richard A. Paez, and Michael J. McShane upheld a district-court decision that U.S. federal courts do have jurisdiction to find Teck Resources Ltd. (formerly Teck Cominco Metals) liable for polluting the river for close to a century.
The ruling upheld a lower court order for the company to reimburse the Colville tribe $8.25 million — $3.39 million the tribe paid to investigate the river’s pollution, plus $4.86 million in attorney fees and costs. The company must also pay $344,300 in prejudgment interest, bringing the total to nearly $8.6 million.
A separate lawsuit seeking damages from Teck for lost or damaged natural resources like Chinook salmon has not been scheduled. Any damages from that lawsuit would be used to pay to rehabilitate the river, after a full investigation into the extent and effects of the Upper Columbia River contamination, which is the next step, said Bob Warren, program manager for the toxic cleanup program at the Washington state Department of Ecology.
Warren said the damages and contamination have yet to be fully characterized.
The Colville Tribe had petitioned the Environment Protection Agency in 1999 to hold Teck responsible for contaminating the river that drains into Lake Roosevelt.