MTPR

Colstrip Cleanup Could Be A Big Job Creator, Conservation Group Says

Apr 3, 2019

A report released today by The Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) says a more thorough cleanup of the coal ash ponds at the Colstrip power plant will create more jobs and permanently stop groundwater contamination.

Becky Mitchell is the NPRC’s chair.

"We are very excited about the result of the report because the report shows that coal ash cleanup is a huge job creator and also a way to permanently remediate the groundwater pollution for use of agriculture and the larger community of Colstrip."

A report released by The Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) says a more thorough cleanup of the coal ash ponds at the Colstrip power plant will create more jobs and permanently stop groundwater contamination.
Credit Northern Plains Resource Council

Mitchell says the report is an effort to present different options to clean up groundwater contamination caused by leaking water from Colstrip’s ash ponds. Those include what the conservation group considers to be a more thorough cleanup compared to those proposed by the company operating Colstrip, Talen Montana.

NPRC says Talen’s plan would create 91 jobs over the next 10 years, and theirs would directly create 218 jobs, including more professional and skilled positions.

But a more thorough cleanup also means higher cleanup costs. Talen estimates its proposal, over the next 50 years will cost nearly $410 million. NPRC’s would cost more than double that, at about $926 million.

"It’s a permanent fix, it’s more thorough than what Talen is proposing, so of course it’s going to cost more."

Colstrip’s ash pond complex is one of the largest in the country at over 800 surface acres. In 2012, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Talen began cleanup talks after finding chemicals like boron, chloride and sulfate in Colstrip’s groundwater that were leaking from the ponds. Because the ponds sit on the water table, groundwater can leak into the ponds and mix with the coal ash before returning to the water table. 

Talen’s cleanup proposal includes groundwater treatment, dewatering some ponds to decrease leakage, and capping some ponds.

"Talen’s plan is called cap-in-place, which means that they will just cover the ponds," Mitchell says. "And they aren’t planning on totally dewatering them, and that is a problem because it is not a permanent fix to the groundwater pollution. The groundwater would continue to leak into the ponds and. So you’re gonna have perpetual contamination of groundwater with Talen’s proposal."

According to NPRC, completely dewatering and excavating the coal ash from the ponds, and moving it to landfills above the water table would permanently stop groundwater contamination.

A table from the NPRC report shows the average number of yearly jobs for Talen's Colstrip coal ash cleanup proposal vs NPRC's so called "Doing it Right" plan.
Credit Northern Plains Resource Council

The coal ash ponds are split into three sites. So far, the cleanup plan for one of them has undergone public review and been approved by the DEQ. The other two are currently being revised. Once approved by the DEQ, those plans will be open for public comment.

The DEQ says one of the plans will likely be ready for public review late this summer.