There is no selenium crisis in Lincoln County

| October 9, 2020 7:00 AM

To the editor:

Tony Smith got it all wrong in his Oct. 2 letter to the editor (“Selenium, and Gunderson, put our county’s waterways at risk in equal measure.”)

First, the statement that state Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Libby) is at odds with my efforts is flat wrong. Both of us feel that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and extreme environmentalists are bypassing common sense, reasonable timing and legislative review when there is no crisis. We cannot meet with DEQ officials personally. This is a political push to create the most restrictive standard in the world.

Yes, since the beginning, I have been involved with and tried to follow this issue. Steve also has studied the technical reports, and he is a House appointee to the important Montana Environmental Council, which receives DEQ reports.

Yes, I arranged for a group of elected officials to tour the water treatment facilities at the Teck mine some 70 miles north of my home. I was impressed with the effective and continuing work they are doing. Teck has been accomplishing the proposals made by the international selenium working group.

Still, we were unaware of the extreme proposal that is on track to become law before most who live near Lake Koocanusa ever hear of it. This is a DEQ end run around the legislature and Lincoln County residents.

Both Tony Smith and Shawna Kelsey (“Gunderson appears to happily carry dirty water for Teck’s mining operations,” Sept. 25) are completely off base about human health danger. We get more selenium from our daily vitamin than what Tony would get from a steady diet of salmon from Lake Koocanusa, because it isn’t in salmon tissue. These misperceptions add to the argument for more time to understand.

In a personal telephone conversation with Director Shaun McGrath of the DEQ and project leader Myla Kelly I asked to slow this schedule down. With COVID-19 restrictions in place, I was unable to meet with them or team members personally. Virtual meetings by computer or phone are not effective for me. I made similar comments at the DEQ virtual meeting, but the gears were already turning.

Special meetings of governor appointed one-sided “commissions,” with no legislators included were already scheduled, one right after another. I spoke against such hasty action to the Bureau of Environmental Regulations. This appears to be a last minute push before Gov. Steve Bullock leaves office.

I have requested the Water Policy Interim Committee to put this item on the October meeting agenda. Steve is suggesting EQC review, as well.

There is no crisis!

State Sen. Mike Cuffe

(R-Eureka)