By B.N. Frank
A growing number of Americans don’t want energy-producing facilities of any kind being built in or near their communities due to biological and environmental risks. This includes residents in Laurel, MN who fought against an approved gas-fired plant and won.
From Billings Gazette:
Judge orders halt to construction of NorthWestern power plant in Laurel
Construction of NorthWestern Energy’s gas-fired power plant in Laurel has been ordered halted by a judge’s ruling Thursday that state regulators ignored environmental risks when permitting the facility in 2021.
Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality “failed to take a hard look concerning two environmental issues,” ruled District Judge Michael Moses. The impacts of the gas-fired power plant’s emissions of greenhouse gases received no consideration by DEQ, Moses concluded. Light pollution from the power plant was the second issue, of which DEQ did little analysis.
Following its court-ordered hard look, the DEQ will have to decide whether permitting the plant warrants a detailed environmental impact statement, or the lighter touch of an environmental assessment.
“This power plant is one of NorthWestern Energy’s largest projects in Montana and it is up-wind of the largest city in Montana. It will dump nearly 770,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year into the air,” Moses wrote.
“The pristine Yellowstone River is adjacent to the project. This project will have a life of more than 30 years. That amounts to more than 23,100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions directly impacting the largest city in Montana that is less than 15 miles downwind. To most Montanans who clearly understand their fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, this is a significant project.”
The lawsuit was brought by the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club on behalf of the Thiel Road Coalition, a neighborhood group which has argued for two years that the power plant was poorly located and posed threats to the public health and quality of life.
At an estimated cost of $283 million, construction of NorthWestern Energy’s 175-megawatt power plant is well underway, despite the lawsuit filed in 2021 and despite no approved zoning. The power plant is being built on 36 acres zoned for agricultural use. Northwestern had initially sought a local government rezoning of the property to “heavy industrial” but shelved those efforts after running into challenges. NorthWestern is Montana’s largest monopoly utility with roughly 398,200 metered electric customers, and 209,100 natural gas meters.
The Thiel Road community and Laurel’s Riverfront Park are located across the Yellowstone River from the power plant site, which is 300 feet from the north bank of the river and less than a half-mile east of the CHS refinery.
NorthWestern Energy didn’t respond to requests for comment by publication time.
“A plant like this is classified as a major source of hazardous air pollutants. Why would you build that in a populated area? You don’t do that. Half of the chemicals that are going to be released out of it are cancer-causing,” said coalition member Steve Krum. “And if you look at all the experts, they say, any benzene exposure is bad, even though it’s not a law. And it’s only a couple times a year, but any benzene is bad. Then you look at noise. Anything over 55 decibels, continuous sound, or more is a health hazard. You can’t have a constant droning noise going on. If you follow what they’ve said from the very beginning, they’ve said all along this is going to be noisy.”
The lawsuit filed against DEQ pointed out that the area where the power plant is currently located has already been dinged by the EPA for excessive sulfur dioxide levels, mainly emanating from a CHS oil refinery nearby. Carbon dioxide from the gas-fired refinery, 769,706 tons a year, is a climate change contributor.
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