Power plant deal near

Sierra Club is a judge's signature away from forcing pollution controls in Craig

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— The Sierra Club proposed a settlement Wednesday that if signed by a federal judge will end a four-year battle over air pollution with the Craig Station power plant.

It also would mark the second time in recent years that the environmental organization has forced a coal-fired power plant in the Yampa Valley to clean up emissions. In 1996, the Sierra Club reached a court-approved settlement with the Hayden power plant that required $130 million in pollution controls to be installed.

In Craig, the price tag would be $30 million higher.

Under a consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Denver Wednesday, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc., and other owners of the Craig Station, would agree to pay for more than $160 million in pollution-controls. The Sierra Club said the improvements will reduce emissions of sulfur, nitrogen oxide and particulates by more than 10,000 tons per year by 2004.

Tri-State also would be required to deposit $1.5 million into a renewable energy fund and pay a $500,000 civil penalty to the U.S. Treasury as part of the settlement.

"We're very pleased," Sierra Club attorney Reed Zars said. "We're only discouraged about how long it took to get us here."

In its lawsuit, the environmental group accused the Craig Station of violating the Clean Air Act thousands of times between 1991 and 1996. Citing data from the power plant itself, the Sierra Club claimed units one and two of the plant on more than 14,000 occasions emitted more than the allowable density of particulate in the air.

When the Sierra Club filed the lawsuit against Craig in 1996, officials from Tri-State contended any and all violations at the plant were well within the limits of the law.

A multitude of legal motions marked Tri-State's nearly five-year fight with the Sierra Club over air pollution. In 1997, for example the company argued that its pollution monitors could not be used to enforce emissions limits. And then last year, as the end of the legal battle neared, Tri-State tried to present reports challenging the accuracy of its own emissions data information it had certified as accurate.

The reports were thrown out by Federal District Judge Edward W. Nottingham in an Oct. 5 decision that also sent the two sides to the negotiation table. Nottingham must sign off on the settlement announced Wednesday to make it binding.

"Today's settlement shows that it pays to persist," Steamboat Springs resident and Sierra Club member Jane Toothaker was quoted in a statement released Wednesday. "Craig's lawyers threw everything at us for four long years. Despite their tactics, and perhaps because of them, we have been able to achieve what we set out to do.

"The Yampa Valley will now have the two cleanest coal-fired power plants in the state and we will have significantly reduced their impact on the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area."

In 1997, U.S. Geological Survey scientists John Turk and Bob Campbell concluded in a study that acid deposition was killing aquatic life in the wilderness area. The study said the power plants in Hayden and Craig were contributors to the problem.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206

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