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Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Locke and Gregoire join tribal lawsuit against B.C. firm
By Christopher Schwarzen
"Teck Cominco can't send highly toxic pollution across the Canadian border and then insist that border protects them from liability," Gregoire said in a statement. "They created one big mess here in the U.S., and they should clean it up, not Washington taxpayers."
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation asked the U.S. District Court in Spokane in July to force Teck Cominco to clean up pollution in the river and Lake Roosevelt under Environmental Protection Agency oversight.
"We are joining the lawsuit because we believe that implementing the EPA order is the quickest way to complete the studies and begin cleaning up the lake," Locke said in a statement. "We prefer not to use the legal route, but we are doing so because we must protect our state's interests in this issue."
According to the EPA, Teck Cominco is responsible for polluting the water and the river's shore for more than 100 miles from the Canadian border during a 100-year period. The pollution which includes lead, arsenic and mercury stems from the company's smelter, located near the small border town of Trails, B.C.
The EPA ordered the company to clean up the toxic metals in December, but company officials said the plant's British Columbia location made them immune to U.S. law.
Tribal members filed suit to try to speed up legal maneuvering. State officials said their help should lead to a successful case.
"The state has a strong interest in making sure contamination in the lake is addressed," said David Mears, division chief of the attorney general's ecology division. "There's no question who is responsible for a significant amount of contamination."
"When a company deposits that level of contaminants, they're accountable under U.S. law," Mears said.
EPA officials have begun the health studies themselves while the U.S. State Department and Canadian Embassy hash out a possible international agreement. The Canadian Embassy formally objected to the EPA's order shortly after it was issued.
Teck Cominco officials said yesterday they weren't surprised by the state's move, but it does little to change the company's position. Teck Cominco filed a motion to dismiss the suit last week. The motion will be heard Nov. 4.
But the company says it won't submit itself to Superfund regulations because of the implied liability.
Tribal members were pleased with yesterday's announcement.
"They're going to bring a little more clout, and maybe that will help bring justice a little faster," said Joseph Pakootas, chairman of the tribe's business council and one of the named plaintiffs.
Christopher Schwarzen: 425-783-0577 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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