At any given time, there are a number of issues in environmental law that fly under the radar screen. Often times these issues are new; not much yet to say, no big story to tell. But as they evolve, they have the potential to profoundly impact environmental law in Canada. Waterkeeper has chosen to profile two such issues in today's newsletter: the Teck Cominco case and the City of Hamilton's lawsuit against the federal government.
The Colville Confederated Tribes and the State of Washington are suing the Vancouver-based mining company over allegations that the company has been poisoning the Columbia River with heavy metals for decades.
At issue are Teck Cominco's operations on the Upper Columbia River, in Trail B.C. The company argues that subjecting Canadian operations to American environmental law violates Canada's sovereign rights. U.S. courts have upheld the position that Teck Cominco is responsible for the deposit of waste into U.S. waters and can be held accountable.
Several times in recent weeks, the Conservative Party of Canada has risen in the House of Commons urging the federal government to support bilateral negotiations instead of "unilateral" actions such as this law suit. The company is currently appealing the suit. The Teck Cominco case could be an important precedent for law enforcement on international waterbodies.
City of Hamilton
On November 24, Hamilton City Council voted 8-7 in favour of suing nearly 70 federal officials, including former cabinet minister Sheila Copps, for $75 million. According to media reports, the lawsuit alleges that the federal government abused its power by attempting to subject the Red Hill Creek Expressway project to a federal environmental assessment.
At issue is whether the federal government tried to use the environmental assessment process as a valuable decision-making process or as a tool to stop an undesirable project.
According to the Hamilton Spectator, no government has ever sued another government for abuse of public power (Dec. 4/04). The move could have a chilling effect on bureaucrats' efforts to apply environmental regulations to big-money projects.