Montana Colstrip ash ponds agreement challenged

Associated Press Published: September 6, 2012

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Conservation groups have filed an appeal challenging an agreement between the state and PPL Montana that requires the company to more closely monitor wastewater leaking from the company's Colstrip power plant.

The Aug. 3 agreement between PPL and the Department of Environmental Quality set new guidelines to investigate and clean up the seeping wastewater. However, no fines were levied, and the agreement contains few deadlines for action.

The attorney for the conservation groups, Jenny Harbine, said the agreement would allow decades of groundwater pollution to continue at the eastern Montana plant.

"There's no guarantee that PPL is required to take action to actually clean up existing contamination," Harbine said. "DEQ has acknowledged the coal ash sludge ponds have been leaking since they were constructed more than 30 years ago — and all the while they were poisoning the groundwater."

Harbine's clients — the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Environmental Information Center — filed an appeal Wednesday asking the state Board of Environmental Review to reject the agreement. DEQ director Richard Opper, who signed the agreement, could not be reached for comment.

The contamination dates to the 1980s at Colstrip, the second-largest coal-fired plant west of the Mississippi.

In 2008, PPL and four companies that co-own the plant paid $25 million to Colstrip residents whose water was fouled by leaking ash ponds.

The plant's prior operator, Montana Power Co., kept the problems hidden for years before notifying the community. By then, water tainted with boron had caused stomach ailments, although no serious illnesses were reported.

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