Report: Coal Plant Contaminates the Yellowstone River
BILLINGS, Mont. - The Yellowstone River oil spill is not yet a distant memory, but oil from a pipeline isn't the only contaminant Montanans should be concerned about, according to a new report from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
They're pointing fingers at water discharged from coal-burning power plants through ash settling ponds, such as the one at the Corette plant on the banks of the Yellowstone.
"The only limits are for total suspended solids, like particles, and oil and grease," said Casey Roberts at the Sierra Club, who researched permits and other public information about water discharges at Corette. "There's no limits at all on any toxic metals: arsenic and selenium, and mercury, lead, et cetera."
There's also no proof that any of those toxins come from the plant, because Roberts said there's no public record about what is in the pond.
Corette's parent company signed an agreement with the state last month to pay penalties for air pollution violations and agreed to install new equipment - although there are plans to close the plant in two years. The stretch of the Yellowstone downstream from the Corette plant has high arsenic levels, which the Montana Department of Environmental Quality attributed to natural causes.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new water-quality standards to limit toxins from coal plants - with the agency saying that more than half of all toxic water pollution in the nation comes from power plants. Roberts said there are concerns that loopholes will not be closed, or that hundreds of coal plants could be exempted from complying. She said she thinks that's a way of shifting cleanup expenses to the public.
"When there's elevated arsenic levels in the water, which downstream of the plant there is, it's imposing extra costs on those water-treatment systems," she said.
The Yellowstone River is a drinking-water and irrigation supply downstream of Billings.
The report, "Closing the Floodgates," is online at action.sierraclub.org.