April 8, 2019 Read More →

Environmentalists push strict coal ash cleanup plan as a jobs initiative for Colstrip area

Billings Gazette:

A Montana conservation group is urging the state to hold Colstrip power plant ash pond cleanup to the highest possible standard, a move it says would keep 218 workers employed for a decade.

Drawing on its federally funded 2019 study of Colstrip cleanup options, the Northern Plains Resource Council said Wednesday that completely de-watering the power plant’s coal ash ponds and putting the ash in dry storage would do the most to stop groundwater contamination, and keep more than 200 people employed.

An estimated 200 million gallons of contaminated water seeps from Colstrip ash ponds every year. The area’s groundwater is undrinkable. The town of Colstrip relies on drinking water pumped from the Yellowstone River primarily to serve the power plant. A highly concentrated coal ash sludge known as “bottom ash” is the most harmful pollution in the 800-plus-acre pond complex. The contaminants of concern, according to Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), are: boron, sulfate, molybdenum, manganese, lithium, selenium and cobalt.

The Montana DEQ has asked Colstrip operator Talen Energy to consider excavating ash from the Colstrip ponds. Depending on which cleanup options DEQ agrees to, the cost of the project could be $400 million to $700 million. Those cost estimates, for the cleanup of all three ponds, were produced by Talen and Colstrip’s largest utility shareholder, Puget Sound Energy, according to DEQ.

Talen Energy hasn’t backed full excavation as its preferred cleanup plan. DEQ will decide which cleanup measures are most adequate.

Northern Plains’ Kate French said the “high and dry” cleanup measures preferred by the conservation group would increase the remediation cost to $900 million.

More: Coal ash pollution cleanup could create 200 Colstrip jobs for a decade, conservationists say

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