Colstrip Power Plant

Pennsylvania Power’s Colstrip Power Plant

by Anne Hedges

Last October, two and a half years late, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality finally renewed the air quality permits for the state’s biggest two polluters, the Colstrip and Corette power plants. MEIC and its members had urged the DEQ to comply with the clean air act and make sure both facilities comply with air pollution standards. Unfortunately DEQ refused to do so. As a result MEIC was forced to appeal both pollution permits to ensure that public health is protected.

How can DEQ guarantee that the massive Colstrip power complex is complying with an hourly particulate emission limit when the company is only required to measure particulate emissions once a each year for three hours? How can DEQ guarantee compliance with a particulate standard when it only requires the company to monitor a fraction of the particulate emissions instead of the all of the particulate emissions. The answer? It cannot.

How can DEQ guarantee Corette is complying with a sulfur dioxide standard when the emission limit isn’t even included in the permit and is based on a calculation that requires inputs that only the company can access, not DEQ or the public? The answer? It cannot.

When EPA adopted the mercury and air toxics rule for power plants over a year ago it required reductions in hazardous air pollutants at plants like Colstrip and Corette. It established emission requirements for dangerous pollutants like acid gases (hydrofluoric acid and sulfuric acid). DEQ ignored these requirements and refused to include these limitations in either permit even though the permits were issued long after the EPA rule was final.

Similarly, in September, before DEQ issued the air permits for Colstrip and Corette, EPA adopted a rule for regional haze that limits emissions of particulates, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides at both facilities. Again DEQ ignored these requirements and refused to put these emission limitations in either air pollution permit.

It’s unfortunate. When we told DEQ about these oversights during the public comment periods, the Montana DEQ provided bizarre rationale for ignoring these legal requirements. When an agency continues to ignore public comments and the law and puts public health at risk, there is only one recourse – file an appeal with the Montana Board of Environmental Review. MEIC and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, did just that.

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