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Environmental Groups Sue State Over Colstrip Cleanup Efforts

Colstrip power plant, Montana
Courtesy Montana AFI-CIO
Colstrip power plant

Coal ash ponds have leaked contaminants into ground and surface water surrounding eastern Montana’s Colstrip plant for decades. Three environmental groups have sued the state of Montana for dragging its heels on the clean up effort.

Coal ash is the hazardous material left over after coal is burned. It contains toxins such as lead, mercury and arsenic. Tens of thousands of pounds of the stuff are deposited every year in Colstrips’s ash ponds.

Those lagoons have been leaking since the 1980s, contaminating both ground and surface water. The state of Montana and PPL Montana, now Talen Energy, reached a cleanup agreement in 2012.

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and the Montana Environmental Information Center sued the state that year. MEIC’s Anne Hedges says that plan was glaringly deficient.

"It was an agreement that resulted in no penalties, no time frames, no cleanup standards. We haven’t even gotten past the first stage of compliance with that agreement and it’s now 2016, There are various steps that have to occur as a result of that agreement and we haven’t even gotten to step one.”

That first step would have characterized the extent of contamination. The groups also say the state’s $7.5 million water monitoring bond is inadequate.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials could not be reached for comment. The two sides met in Missoula district court Monday to hammer out details of the case in advance of a trial set for mid-April.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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