Rosebud Protective Association

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Stopping the leaking coal ash ponds in Colstrip

  • The coal ash storage ponds at the Colstrip Power Plant have been leaking for over 30 years!
  • These ponds were supposed to be completely sealed according to the permit granted by the Board of Health;
  • Montana Power Company, the owner at the time, petitioned the Board of Health to allow for some seepage
  • This “seepage” has allowed for damages to groundwater and surface water of more than 50 homeowners and landowners in the vicinity. At this point, there is still no remedy in place to stop the leaking. Instead there are 800 pumpback and monitoring wells that capture the contamination and pump it back into the leaking ponds;
  • RPA has been actively meeting with State agencies and commenting on federal proposed rules to address the problem.

Northern Plains submitted testimony about the problems of leaking coal ash ponds at a December 6, 2011, meeting of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC), EPA Region 8 Administrator Jim Martin, and staff of Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

Proposed EPA rules cover coal-related issues such as mercury emissions, regional haze, and coal ash disposal. The EPA is years, if not decades, behind in implementing these rules.

While the PSC does not have direct authority over the proposed rules, their impact will potentially be felt by Montana’s regulated utilities. DEQ has the authority to implement provisions of the federal Clean Air and Water Acts in Montana.

Clint McRae, a rancher and Northern Plains member from Rosebud County whose family ranch has been severely impacted from leaking coal ash ponds at the nearby Colstrip Coal-Fired Generation Facility, offered testimony to the commission:

“Make no mistake, this [leaking ash ponds at Colstrip] is a huge impact to our ranching operations. We were assured by the state agencies that these impacts would not happen and trusted them to uphold the law. This has not happened. Time has proven us right. If the state of Montana cannot, or will not, enforce the law, we have no choice but to ask for oversight from federal agencies.”

The coal ash ponds at Colstrip have been leaking for more than 30 years, and in 2008, 57 area homeowners sued PPL Montana (the owner of the generation facility) for damages to their water quality. However, the ponds are still leaking today and contaminated water in adjacent aquifers is simply being pumped back into the leaking ash ponds. The proposed rules would protect water quality from leaking coal ash ponds by phasing out the wet storage of coal ash.

Rancher Clint McRae’s testimony to government agencies about the leaking coal ash ponds at Colstrip

About Us

Rosebud Protective Association is an affiliate and founding member of Northern Plains Resource Council. RPA organizes in the Colstrip and Forsyth areas on coal issues. The last two years, RPA has been working on addressing the leaking coal ash ponds at the Colstrip power plant.

By joining you can:

  • Help protect water quality in the area;
  • Help us identify and work on issues of concern in our community;
  • Receive reliable and timely information through newsletters, e-mail alerts, factsheets, reports, and more;
  • Join us in Helena during the Montana Legislature to advocate for legislation that protects our clean air and water, supports family farms and ranches, and encourages responsible development.


Rosebud Protective Association was a founding affiliate of Northern Plains Resource Council. RPA along with ranchers from the Bull Mountains got together to form Northern Plains in 1972 because of concerns about expanding coal development. RPA was instrumental in fighting the Colstrip power plants in the ’70s and ’80s. Since then, RPA has tackled agriculture issues, the Tongue River Railroad, coal bed methane, and of course, coal issues surrounding the mine and power plant in the Colstrip area.

220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154