Update: According to MT DEQ Water Protection Bureau Chief Jenny Chambers, “the current permit has been administratively extended and remains in full force until we are able to process and complete the renewal permit. We are in the process of drafting the renewal and plan to be going for public notice during the first half of 2011.”
Original Blog Post: Ah, the mighty Yellowstone – the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. Its fertile valley has fed and watered my family for a century. If you are what you eat, we are the Yellowstone (and the Stillwater, the Missouri, the Big Horn, and a handful of priceless creeks where big trout still run).
The last Northern Plains Resource Council newsletter reports that Corette Station in Billings, MT is discharging coal ash legally into the adjacent Yellowstone. This sort of thing makes my eyes cross, so I requested Corette’s current MPDES permit from Montana DEQ.
According to the permit, there are two forms of discharge authorized from Corette into the Yellowstone. The first is “once-through cooling water” discharged into the river at two locations. The second type of discharge is “from the bottom ash handling system, and miscellaneous low volume wastes from plant floor drains, furnace seal water evaporation blowdown, and storm water runoff not to include runoff from coal stock piles, except during a precipitation event equal to or greater than the 10 year 24 hour event.” That effluent is limited only in its content of total suspended solids, oil and grease, and “(t)here shall not be acute toxicity in the effluent.” There is no mention of the type of heavy metals (arsenic, selenium, etc.) that have caused contamination at other coal ash disposal sites.
At Section III(I), the permit also requires compliance with “effluent standards or prohibitions established under Section 307(a) of the (Clean Water) Act for toxic pollutants within the time provided in the regulations that establish those standards or prohibitions, even if the permit has not yet been modified to incorporate the requirement.” There we go – this is the language that means the Clean Water Act is still the final word, and there are federal limits on discharging toxic pollutants even if the permit doesn’t explicitly say so.
Dumping coal ash straight into the Yellowstone. Not okay.