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New study touts clean-up benefits for Colstrip power plants

COLSTRIP- A new study paints a bright picture for future jobs associated with the clean up of groundwater pollution at the Colstrip power plants.

The document, released Tuesday, is a joint effort between the Northern Plains Resource Council and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The study brings to light the current decisions pending in Helena, as to what type of cleanup the state will approve for Colstrip’s leaking coal ash ponds. The more extensive the clean-up – the more jobs involved, according to the study.

The Colstrip ash pond complex is one of the largest in the United States. It has with 32 ponds, covering more than 800 acres containing tons of coal ash contaminated with pollutants such as arsenic, chromium, radium and lead.

The ponds are leaking at an alarming rate of up to 367 gallons per minute, or 200 million gallons per year.

Colstrip plant operator and co-owner Talen Energy is proposing a "Cap-in-Place" remedy, where the ponds are covered and the coal ash is left inside. This new study points out that, historically, such an approach results in fewer jobs and increased long-term pollution.

Ted Stimac with the IBEW, Colstrip’s largest union, said his union sees the reclamation work as " an opportunity to keep skilled workers employed in the Colstrip community, instead of being laid off and forced to leave the area."

Some of the case studies cited in the report show that doing a thorough cleanup is a major job creator, in some cases employing between 50 to 90 percent of the plant’s operational workforce. At the same time, it can significantly reduce groundwater contamination, according to the study.

Northern Plains Resource Council chairwoman Becky Mitchell said, "a good cleanup plan that hires the local workforce is an important component of what we hope is Colstrip’s bright and resilient future."

The study also points out that a thorough cleanup protects local property values. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality is now reviewing Talens’ cleanup proposal and will be approving a specific clean up plan within the year.

Officials at Talen Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

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