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Colstrip is the second-largest coal-fired power plant west of the Mississippi.

Northern Plains Resource Council has suggestions for Talen Energy's cleanup efforts in Colstrip as the power company prepares for the 2022 shutdown of two of the power plants there. 

"Talen is obligated legally to clean up," said Kate French. "How they do it makes a really big difference."

French, a researcher with the Northern Plains Resource Council, is one of the lead authors of the council's new report, "Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup," which was released Tuesday. 

Talen Energy is responsible for cleaning up the coal ash ponds it uses to deposit coal combustion residuals, the byproduct produced by coal-fired power plants. The Northern Plains Resource Council report argues that if Talen were to drain the ponds, excavate them from the ground and reclaim the land it would create a number of jobs after the power plants close down. 

In its cleanup plans — which will eventually need state approval — Talen has proposed to cap the coal ash ponds rather than remove them. 

The report studied two coal-fired power plants in North Carolina that excavated their ponds rather than cap them and found that in both cases more jobs were created for the local communities and the land reclamation helped property values. 

Todd Martin, the manager of media relations for Talen Energy, declined to comment on the Council's report. 

"Talen Montana did not participate in the development of the report and cannot comment on something we’re seeing for the first time this afternoon," he said Tuesday.

Partnering with the Northern Plains Resource Council on the report was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 1638), which is based in Colstrip. Both groups hope Talen will use local workers and Talen employees in the cleanup efforts rather than contracting with an outside company. 

Ultimately, the report says, the cleanup needs to be thorough and complete and argues that capping the ponds will only create problems for the town in the future, when eventually a full cleanup will have to happen. 

"That burden will fall to taxpayers," French said. 

Doing a thorough cleanup now will employ more people, make the land more attractive to businesses and industries looking to come to Colstrip and potentially will keep taxpayers from footing the bill, French said.

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.