Puget Sound Energy among utilities sued for using coal power
Puget Sound Energy, the majority owner of the Colstrip coal plant in Montana, was named in a federal lawsuit filed on last Wednesday.
The Sierra Club and Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) brought the suit, alleging that the plant emits too much pollution. They are requesting that it be fined more than $37,000 a day for violating the Clean Air Act.
Doug Howell, senior regional representative for Sierra Club Northwest, said Puget Sound Energy is now doing some long-range planning, and his group is not convinced the company is taking into account the environmental costs of using power from Colstrip.
"What's needed is for ratepayers to understand the full picture here," he said, "and the potential hook that they will be on if they have to absorb the liabilities from this plant."
Other Colstrip plant owners are co-defendants in the suit, including Avista, PacifiCorp, Portland General Electric, NorthWestern Energy and Pennsylvania Power and Light.
In Montana, MEIC program director Anne Hedges said the pollution issues with the plant are new.
She explained that when modifications are made to older plants, they are supposed to be upgraded for better pollution control and go through a permitting process.
"This is a case which we have been investigating for years," she said, "finding that all four units at the facility have been modified in a way that required them to go through a permitting process, and they did not do so."
The owners of Colstrip have stated that changes at the plant were routine maintenance and therefore did not have to be upgraded for pollution control under the Clean Air Act.
Hedges said requiring the controls is not only about protecting public health, but also to even the playing field with newer coal plants that must, by law, install pollution controls.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Seattle.