Teck Coal Faces Record-Breaking $60 Million Fine for Contamination of BC Rivers

Teck Coal, a Canadian mining company, is facing $60 million in fines after pleading guilty to two charges of contaminating rivers in southeast British Columbia. This is the highest penalty ever assessed under the Fisheries Act and breaks down to $80,000 per offence per day. The majority of this fine, $58 million, will go towards the federal Environmental Damages Fund, a program administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada to advance environmental and conservation projects with positive impacts.

The contamination occurred in December and January 2012 as a result of Teck Coal’s failure to maintain a settling pond for waste rock material from their coal mine. Accordingly, water contaminated with selenium and calcite was able to mix into the Fording River. Selenium is a common contaminant found in coal mines, which in large amounts, can cause fish deformities and reproductive failures. Calcite is a mineral that coats the bottoms of streams and rivers, destroying the habitat necessary for fish reproduction. Of particular concern was the fact that the Fording River and connecting waterways are home to a native species of trout (Westslope Cutthroat Trout) which are considered endangered. Teck Coal conducted their own research and by 2020 found that the fish population in the affected areas had largely collapsed.

In the hearing held on March 26, 2021, Teck Coal agreed to a joint submission with the Crown prosecutor to avoid a trial. A representative from the Ktunaxa First Nation delivered a community impact statement at the hearing about the effects of the contamination on the Nation who continue to hunt and practice sustenance rights in that area. At the conclusion of the hearing, the British Columbia Provincial Court assessed the fine amount, and later that same day Teck Coal issued an open letter addressing the situation and apologizing to the Kutnaxa First Nation.

This post was co-authored by Richard Bereti and Nicola Virk. Want more useful updates on recent environmental legislation? Contact Richard Bereti at rbereti@harpergrey.com or anyone else from our team listed on the Authors page.