Montana Reaches Deal in Colstrip Coal Ash Cleanup Dispute

Deal give company two years to come up with alternative plan to clean up polluted water

By Associated Press

BILLINGS — The state of Montana has reached a settlement with a coal plant operator that gives the company two years to come up with an alternative plan to clean up water polluted with coal ash.

Ponds meant to contain the toxic ash from the Colstrip power plant in southeastern Montana have been leaking for years, contaminating underground water supplies.

The settlement announced Tuesday by the Department of Environmental Quality requires plant operator Talen Energy to complete design work over the next two years on a plan to excavate the coal ash and put it into a new, lined landfill.

But during that period the company can also ask state officials to consider an alternative cleanup plan.

The coal-ash ponds complex that contains waste from the first two units of the Colstrip plant involves nine waste ponds that have leaked about 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of contaminated water into the ground every year for more than 30 years. The water contains boron, sulfates, selenium and heavy metals.

The settlement follows 11 months of dispute resolution, during which Talen scored major concessions beneficial for itself and five regional utilities with power plant ownership, The Billings Gazette reported.

The cleanup bond amount determined necessary by DEQ to cover remediation costs was cut from $285 million to $163 million.