GREAT FALLS (AP)
Two environmental groups have appealed a state air quality permit granted to the proposed Highwood Generating Station, to be built east of here. And in an unusual twist, so has the developer. The Helena-based Montana Environmental Information Center and the Great Falls-based Citizens for Clean Energy filed an appeal Tuesday seeking tighter pollution controls. Late last week, the plant’s developer also appealed the permit issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality, Both sides had the right to appeal, but an environmental advocate Tuesday called the appeal by the developer “bizarre” and “shocking.” Anne Hedges contended the appeal by Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative indicates the group fears it cannot meet the permit’s pollution limits. “After all of SME’s talk about controlling its pollution, the first thing it did was demand permit changes so it can pollute more,” said Hedges, program manager for the MEIC. “The permit is already inadequate to protect public health and the environment. SME would make the permit even worse.” The generating station, to be built eight miles east of Great Falls, would burn lowsulfur coal to create up to 250 megawatts of electricity. Last week, SME attorney Michael McCarter of Helena said the state air quality permit set a limit on release of total particulate matter, but failed to specify a measurement method. Hedges disagreed with SME, saying the state allows “about seven different ways they can test for particulates. They (SME) want to use something that’s unapproved. “SME wants to get vendor guarantees for their financing,” she said. Getting those guarantees might be easier if the permit’s requirements were watered down, she said. SME is seeking federal financing for about 85 percent of the plant. The city of Great Falls wants to own about 15 percent of the plant. Backers contend it would be one of the cleanest coal-fired power plants in the country, and that a smoke plume would rarely be seen coming out of its smokestack. They have promised to control carbon dioxide emissions if that is affordable and feasible, and say the plant will not be harmful to public health. A final environmental impact statement done jointly by federal and state agencies said the plant would have “long-term minor to moderate” effects on air quality and “minor” long-term effects on public health and safety. Each side has about two more weeks to file affidavits supporting their appeals of the air quality permit. The state Board of Environmental Review may discuss the Highwood plant at its July meeting.