US, Canada, Indigenous Groups Tackle Mining Pollution

Nikita Pradhan
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On Monday, the US, Canada and some indigenous groups unveiled a framework to address coal mining pollution in B.C., which claimed the lives of fish in two countries just as badly as had rivers on the other side of the border.

Carrying out the proposal would involve a century-old international treaty that would establish the State boards to determine the pollution magnitude and then recommend cleanup actions.

Indigenous Perspectives

The Associated Press scooped more details ahead of the United Nations public report in advance of its publication. It is a success story of indigenous nations in British Columbia, Montana and Idaho that had struggled for more than a decade, trying to get the US and Canadian governments involved to solve the issue.

Years ago, the scientists of the US Environmental Protection Agency found high selenium levels in the fish and eggs of the Kootenai River, downstream of Lake Koocanusa, a shared Canadian and American border lake. The chemical, washout of which comes along with coal mining, can be deadly to these organisms.

Ktunaxa people who derive their sustenance from the fish populations numbering two tribes in the US and four reserves in Canada are among many human beings whose livelihoods are linked to the damaging project.

The fish (every fish especially the smaller ones), you found of any damages done. Different kinds of physical anomalies appear in their bodies as well as reproductive problems says Tom McDonald, a Vice-Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes located in northwestern Montana. It has to stop.

For decades, selenium levels in water surfaces entering Lake Koocanusa have seen a steady rise, most likely, due to input from coal mines in the Elk Valley of British Columbia. 

The Kootenai River is born from the Elk River, which creates a boundary line along the Canada/US border and reaches as far as Idaho where it joins the Columbia River in Canada.

Sowing the seeds for the visit on Monday was done as a prelude last year by President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau in their 2023 statement that Canada and the US would work together with all the affected indigenous tribes and first nations to reduce Elk-Kootenai watershed pollution by the end of the month.

All the parties are aware of the relevance of time in this party,” Said Stephen Harding, the lands senior director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

Human and animal health is of grave concern as all too evident in rising the pollution levels in this system. We need to come together in many ways to defend our local communities. 

This way, we can blend all the data and the information to ensure that we have it even in one place which helps us in coming up with wise decisions.

Tribal Advocacy and Government Accountability

Gary Aitken Jr, a member of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho serving as the Vice Chairman, emphasized that the tribal leaders have been advocating for federal involvement through lobbying for at least 12 years and longer.

He sighed frustratedly saying that he had never felt so frustrated like this before. We will just hope this will be the turning point and that this time the governments will deal with the problem sincerely and really start the work on site.

This proposal based on a bilateral panel called the International Joint Commission advocates for a term not exceeding two years within which a study should be conducted to determine the type and degree of pollution. The idea is to be able to put in place a plan to minimize negative environmental impacts at the fastest rate possible, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rachel Poynter remarked.

When Poynter said this is the first step, we acknowledged that, and we clearly understand that, but he said it is a critical first step, which means it is a key first step.

Stakeholders from both Montana and Idaho as well as British Columbia would also be part of this initiative.

Senator Jon Tester of Montana has stated that he’s happy to see the Canadians taking part after the Indian tribes before had complained that the Canadians didn’t cooperate.

I’ll just keep on the State Department at the same time the Department is holding the government of Canada accountable,” the Democrat lawmaker stated.

A Canadian coal company was fined 60 million USD in 2021 having pledged guilty to a Canadian court in a case of discharges of pollution blamed for fish populations’ damage in British Columbia. The Environmental Protection Agency discovered that from two of the coastal mines of Teck Resources Limited, large amounts of calcite and selenium were discharged..

Indigenous Perspectives on Timeline

Teck Resources’ spokesman Chris Stannell said that in reaction to Monday’s proposal the company continues to make efforts that lead activists closer to making water quality better. It constructed four water treatment plants with 95% selenium removal ability in them, the speakers said, expecting a further six sites to be built by 2027.

The remedy is not brute force either, we instead should use the same amount more than what we need, thereby stabilizing the excess selenium concentrations and then slowly decreasing it as the treatment progresses, so said Stannell.

The method of mountaintop removal mining found locally in coal is the channel that supplies iron and steel foundries with the fuel.

Kathryn Teneese, the lead leader of the Ktunaxa Nation Council which includes the Ktunaxa, Okanagan, and Syilx Nation, considered only two years for studies and solutions, to be a very short time.

Last Updated on by Nikita Pradhan

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