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Study: Thorough Colstrip Cleanup Would Provide Jobs


Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff

COLSTRIP, Mont. - Thoroughly cleaning up coal-ash ponds at the Colstrip Power Plant would lead to a significant number of jobs, according to a new report.

The Northern Plains Resource Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1638, representing maintenance and operations workers at the plant, studied the cleanup of other coal plants across the country. It found the less-intensive method called cap-in-place proposed by Colstrip plant owners may employ fewer people, compared with a thorough cleaning process known as excavation.

Lead report researcher Kate French said plants in North Carolina provided case studies.

"From those cases, we can see that excavation tends to employ a lot more people," she said, "and this really follows general industry knowledge that excavation requires a much bigger workforce."

The report found excavation employed as much as 90 percent of the plant's workforce for cleanup. Coal-ash ponds can leak into groundwater sources, becoming hazardous to humans, livestock, and wildlife.

The report said ponds at Colstrip, which cover about 800 acres, leak about 200 million gallons of contaminated water a year into the ground. The plant owners have to retire two of their four units by 2022.

Plant owners aren't legally required to excavate the coal-ash ponds, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing the company's cap-in-place proposal. However, French said, a thorough remediation of the ponds would make Colstrip more attractive for future economic development. She added that the owners have an obligation to the community to clean up their own mess.

"Really, it's on them to figure out a good way to pay for it," she said, "because if they don't do it right, it's going to be the taxpayers who have to pick up the slack on that."

French said the power plant's workforce already has many of the skills needed for the excavation process, but would have to convince Talen Energy and the other owners to hire them.

"This really could be a good potential for the community," she said. "It's just that the community is going to have to demand this because Talen hasn't indicated that they are going to hire the local workforce to do this work. But we feel they really should."

The report is online at



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