US Supreme Court Declines to Hear Teck Appeal, Finalizing Colville Tribes’ Victories In Columbia River Damages Casey

Justus Caudell – June 9, 2019

NESPELEM, WA—The US Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal by Teck, Inc., of the Colville Tribes’ victories in a landmark environmental enforcement case, establishing that the Canadian mining giant’s actions in dumping millions of tons of toxic waste into the Upper Columbia River make it a responsible party under United States law.  

“This decision brings the Tribes’ more than 20-year legal battle with Teck to a close,” Rodney Cawston, Chairman of the Colville Business Council, said today. “We are very grateful for this result, that the highest Court in the land agrees that Teck is liable for the enormous damage it inflicted on our river.”

Cawston said that Colville never wavered in its fightagainst Teck, one of the world’s largest mining companies, which released nearly 10 million tons of toxic slag over nearly a century from its Trail, BC smelter.

“The Tribes was determined to protect our river, to do everything we could to right this wrong,” Cawston said.

Cawston said there were many Colville leaders and staff to thank for this victory

“I want to recognize and honor the determination and commitment of Colville Business Council members in the past, who began this difficult journey in the 1990s,” he said.  “Their courage and support of this cause has brought us where we are today.”

He also applauded the Tribes’ Environmental Trust Department for its commitment to hold Teck accountable, including former Environmental Trust Director Gary Passmore, who worked on the case for many years, and current Director Amelia Marchand.  “I must particularlythank Patti Bailey, who coordinated the Teck work for Environmental Trust” he said.  She worked passionately and tirelessly with our staff scientists and other experts to marshal the facts and arguments we needed to win.” Cawston said that although Bailey retired recently, handing over her work to Cindy Marchand, “Patti’s warrior spirit has kept us going.”

He said that the Tribes’ longtime chief litigator, Paul Dayton of Ogden Murphy Wallace (formerly Short Cressman Burgess) in Seattle, “has been our champion over the years, doing all the difficult and complex legal work required in this historic case.” And, Richard DuBey, also of Ogden Murphy, guided the start of effort and the first federal court filing in 2004.

The Tribes were joined by the State of Washington as co-plaintiffs against Teck in 2004.  “We appreciate the work of the State of Washington, which has stood with us in this cause,” Cawston said.  “We hope that now Teck will step up and do the right thing—to clean up its releases of hazardous substances in the Upper Columbia.”

Both the Tribes and the State argued that Teck should be found liable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Cleanup, and Liability Act (“CERCLA”) for its releases of slag and effluent into the Upper Columbia River for almost 100 years.

“This is a great example of what can be accomplished when two sovereigns—the Colville Tribes and the State of Washington—join forces to protect the environment and hold polluters accountable,” Cawston said.  

The case establishes that federal environmental law can be used to hold a Canadian company liable when its operations cause from releases of hazardous substances inthe United States.  Teck had claimed that US courts lack jurisdiction over the company, but the Ninth Circuit found it “inconceivable” that Teck did not know its waste was aimed at Washington when it discharged slag and effluent directly to the Columbia River a few miles upstream from the US.  

The Tribes has also prevailed in its effort to establish that Teck has  “joint and several” liability for damages caused by its waste, meaning Teck will be responsible for all damages regardless of  whether others may have also contributed to the harm.

Today’s Supreme Court decision not to revisit the case also means the Tribes will recover than $8.5 million in scientific investigative costs and attorney’s fees incurred for assessing the site and proving Teck’s liability, and pre-judgment interest.

Cawston said the next step is for the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Ninth Circuit’s judgment and begin cleanup and restoration of the Upper Columbia.The Tribes, along with the Department of Interior, the State of Washington and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, will continue enforcement actions to recover natural resource damages resulting from Teck’s contamination of the river.

Air pollution science under siege

Top EPA adviser attacks the agency for making decisions before major review of air pollution standards is completed.

Jeff Tollefson

28 MARCH 2019

A quarter of a century of research has shown that breathing in fine airborne particles emitted by cars, power plants and other sources shortens people’s lifespans. But that scientific consensus is now under attack from a top adviser to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just as the agency is rushing to revise the national air-quality standard for such pollution before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. Scientists fear that the result could be weaker rules on air pollution that are bad for public health — and based on politics, not science.

The US EPA is reviewing its standard for fine-particle pollution

The national air quality standards are designed to limit the amount of six widespread pollutants — including airborne particles and ozone — that are present in the air that people breathe. State and local governments must develop plans to curb pollution in areas that do not meet the standards. The EPA must review the science, and if necessary, revise the standard for each pollutant every five years, though in practice the process often takes longer.

The current review started in 2015, and various delays pushed the deadline back to 2022. But former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced early last year that the agency would push to complete its review and revision by December 2020. In order to meet that deadline, the EPA will have to curtail their normal review and revision process. In October 2018, the agency also dismantled a scientific advisory panel that works in parallel with the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), which advises officials on air-quality standards.

The latest development came on 28 March, when CASAC met to discuss a draft letter they had released several weeks earlier, which blasted agency scientists for relying on “subjective judgments” and “unverifiable opinions” in their evaluation of particulate pollution research. The head of CASAC, Tony Cox, is a statistician who has long questioned the evidence linking fine particulate pollution to premature deaths, and the draft letter reflects this scepticism.

The draft letter called on the EPA to do another research assessment looking at the uncertainties and inconsistencies in the scientific literature on air pollution. It said that the agency should include all relevant studies, including some authored by Cox, some of which were funded by industry groups.

The full committee removed much of the most controversial language during their 28 March meeting. But CASAC members remained divided on the link between fine particle pollution and premature death. The final text of the letter will reflect that division.

Nevertheless, the debate between CASAC members over the link between particulate pollution and public health has alarmed agency scientists, academics and environmental groups.

“They are just completely dismissing the science,” says Gretchen Goldman, an environmental engineer in Washington DC who tracks the issue for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She co-wrote a guest editorial1published on 21 March in Science urging the EPA not to abandon the scientific evidence on air pollution. “Without independent science, we risk having public-health decisions made for political reasons,” she says.

The benefits of preventing premature deaths from particulate pollution are also baked into other air pollution regulations, such as those targeting mercury and greenhouse gases. So downplaying the public-health impacts of particle pollution could help the Trump administration to roll back an array of environmental regulations, says Goldman.

Burden of proof

Cox defended his views in an email to Nature. The EPA process for reviewing air-quality standards is focused on “eliciting, synthesizing, and documenting the opinions and judgments” of the agency’s own scientists, which are often based on “ambiguous statistical associations that depended on unverified models and assumptions”, he said. His own research has raised questions about the link between reducing fine-particle pollution and saving lives.

But there is mounting evidence, compiled by a wide range of scientists from around the world, that links pollution to higher death rates. In a 2017 study2 of almost 61 million people, for instance, researchers at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used satellite data and computer models to map out daily pollution levels on a 1-kilometre grid across the United States for 12 years. After controlling for factors including education and income, the scientists found that death rates increased in regions with more fine-particulate pollution and higher levels of ozone, a major component of smog — even if those areas met air-quality standards.

If anything, those results suggest that the national standard should be stricter than it is now, says Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician at Harvard University and a co-author of the 2017 study, as well as the Science editorial. But she stresses that her study is just one among many that have documented the public-health impacts from particulate pollution. “It’s about the whole body of evidence,” Dominici says.

Cory Zigler, a biostatistician at the University of Texas, Austin, says that Cox has effectively declared his own statistical methods king, writing off a variety of studies and methods demonstrating the link between air pollution and public health.

Cox says he is well aware of such criticisms and that he is only following the science where it leads, regardless of political consequences. “My sole motivation and commitment is to uphold and apply good science,” he told Nature.

Compressed timeline

The EPA’s recently confirmed administrator, Andrew Wheeler, is continuing the push to review and revise the particulate pollution standard by late 2020. But meeting the abbreviated deadline will be nearly impossible without damaging the integrity of the scientific review process, particularly in light of the delays caused by the government shutdown that ended in January, says an EPA official who is familiar with the process and who requested anonymity because they aren’t authorized to talk to the press.

Wheeler has also drawn criticism for disbanding the scientific review panel last October, which normally works in parallel with CASAC. The current CASAC members — all of whom were appointed after Trump took office — lack the scientific expertise in epidemiology and other fields to properly evaluate the EPA’s work on air-quality standards, says Christopher Frey, an environmental engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Frey formerly chaired CASAC and was on the scientific review panel that Wheeler dissolved in October 2018.

Cox and other CASAC members have publicly acknowledged this criticism and say that they need access to additional experts. During the 28 March meeting, the committee revised its draft letter to include a request for the EPA to either reinstate the previous review panel or create a new one.

Frey adds that the normal process for assessing the science has been repeatedly reviewed and approved by CASAC, and that every prior assessment has confirmed the link between particulate pollution and death rates. “That finding is one of the most robust scientific findings in air-pollution health,” Frey says.

There is some difference of opinion within CASAC. Although the recent draft letter is highly critical of the EPA, individual comments submitted by some panel members, and included with the draft letter, were more supportive of the agency’s science assessment on particulate pollution. And three of the seven members called for the disbanded review panel to be reinstated.

What happens next is unclear. Normally, the EPA would revise its evaluation of the scientific research on the pollutant in question after input from CASAC and the larger scientific advisory panel. Then it would conduct an assessment focused on health risks and exposure trends. If the EPA found that an update to the standard was justified, it would then formally proposes a change. But many scientists and environmentalists expect the EPA will try to consolidate these steps in order to finalize a new standard next year.

To read Jeff Tollefson full article click here.

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Northport, WA – Then and Now

Lake Roosevelt Forum Bus Tour

The annual LRF Bus Tour is June 19, 2019.

The LRF hosts a bus tour along the Upper Columbia River, down to Lake Roosevelt for interested organizations and community members. The tour includes RI/FS updates to the lake and UCR site operations. Participants learn from presentations and have the opportunity to network with each other to consider their common interest: the health and well-being of Lake Roosevelt and the upper Columbia.

Register today

Click here to sign up for the June 19th LRF Bus Tour. After registering you will receive meet-up time and locations and other tour information soon. 

Northport Waterfront – Ecology Investigation Underway

INVESTIGATION UNDERWAY

WA State Department of Ecology is directing and funding an investigation and cleanup of smelter-related metals contamination on Northport’s City Park and boat launch waterfront area. The project area includes all permanently and seasonally exposed areas of the Columbia River bank and shore directly next to the Northport City Park and boat launch. From the river, this area is between Smelter Rock downstream to the Northport Highway 25 Bridge, and is associated with the historic Le Roi Smelter that was located at and around the City Park. The area remains polluted by smelter wastes that were dumped and dispersed along the shore. Our goal is to assess options for protecting people and restoring the environment next to the City Park. We look forward to working with local government, businesses, and residents during the investigation and cleanup process to understand your concerns and the community’s vision for the waterfront.

First round of beach sampling complete.  SitePageImageHandler

We held a comment period March 13 – April 11, 2019, for the Remedial Investigation (RI) Work Plan and related State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) documents. Learn more about the investigation in the notice that was mailed to local residents and businesses.We responded to comments from two people and thank them for their input. 

Next steps

The draft RI Report will take several months to prepare following the initial field work and be publicly available later this year. We will hold a comment period for it when the draft Feasibility Study Report that lays out cleanup options is also ready.

Prior to that, we are planning to hold a public meeting to share the investigation results and start discussing options for cleanup. The purpose of having a public meeting prior to public comment on the reports is we’d like to incorporate the community’s City Park shore improvement and development ideas into the cleanup options.

CONTAMINATION

The information gathered during the investigation will help Ecology understand where contamination exists and develop options for cleaning it up. However, based on past investigations in this area, we know several metals are present in smelter wastes in this area:

Metal levels known to be present do not pose an immediate, acute human health risk. However, long-term exposure may increase the risk of certain health problems. You can take simple actions to protect yourself and your family from exposure.

RELATED INFORMATION

  • Dirt Alert program  – Industrial air emissions and pesticides used in farming have polluted large areas of soil with arsenic and lead. Our Dirt Alert program provides information on how you can protect yourself and your family.

Ecology Hopes to Renew Air Monitoring in Northport

  MAY 8, 2018

Residents of Northport, Washington are being told that Washington state is looking into funding sources for air monitoring of emissions from a lead and zinc smelter some 20 miles away in British Columbia.

Monitoring of air quality on the Washington side of the border of the Teck Resources smelter in Trail, British Columbia has not been conducted since 2009. That’s after the company made major efforts to reduce its emissions of Lead, Cadmium and Zinc.

But some Northport residents feel the potential health threat is still there, and want the EPA to renew the air monitoring.

But the federal agency decided that analysis of existing data didn’t warrant any more testing.

EPA’s Cami Grandinetti says they turned down a petition from 100 residents asking for more testing.

“Back in 1999 to 2009, before their upgrades, even at those levels, we weren’t seeing a risk, so even at those higher historical levels, we weren’t seeing a risk, and we know they have been making improvements to that facility, which from our perspective means those numbers continue to go down or are lower than they were, so what was not a risk before is still not a risk,” she said.

Even so, the Northeast Tri-County Health District is one agency that has sided with the residents in calling for renewed air monitoring. Matt Shunts is the agency’s administrator. He says computer modeling of the emissions is enough to warrant renewed air testing.

“You know we have just immediately north of us, in that Northport area, is the largest zinc and lead smelter, I believe, in North America, and so it’s pretty important to our citizens who live in that area, and we who represent public health, to know what those impacts are,” said Shunts.

Shunts says some blood lead testing has been conducted in the community, but none of the testing has shown elevated levels of concern.

Despite EPA’s decision, the State Department of Ecology has decided it will try to begin the air monitoring again.

“Our toxicologist report indicates that there isn’t an imminent threat to the environment, but there is a potential increase in health risk over a lifetime of exposure,” says Ecology spokeswoman Brook Beeler.

The issue now is locating the funding. Beeler says it’s estimated the monitoring could cost $300,000 for two years.

“We don’t know if there are grants available for monitoring or if there is money available in our own budget. Right now we are in budget development, so we don’t have a good sense if money might be available,” Beeler said.

EPA officials say it is possible the state might be able to get some of the funding through the federal agency.

Please Help Our Community

To receive funding from the EPA, so Ecology can provide air monitors in and around our town, we are asking everyone (you don’t have to be a resident) to email the EPA.

It will just take a moment, simply request they provide air monitors in and around Northport to protect the health of the residents.

SEND EMAILS TO:

tonel.monica@epa.gov

cerise.kathy@epa.gov

stifelman.marc@epa.gov

Your email could help save countless lives for decades to come. Thank you!!

Northport’s Haunted House

image_from_ios.jpeg

Northport Welcome Center’s Haunted House and Membership Drive

 

WHEN

Wednesday, Oct 31 at 5 PM – 8 PM

WHO

Northport, WA Historical Society

WHERE

311 Columbia Ave., Northport, WA

 

COME JOIN US FOR A TERRIFYINGLY GOOD TIME!!!

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