Tri-state, Sierra Club working on settlement

From the fourth floor of his dormitory building, a college student "mooned" other students on the ground and in the process fell from the window. He attempted to sue the college for not making him aware of the dangers of living on the fourth floor. The case was dismissed.

"It just goes to show you there are a lot of frivolous and outrageous lawsuits out there and this is another one," said Tim Driver, Tri-State Generations and Transmission operations superintendent.

Driver made a presentation to the Northwest Colorado Energy Producers Association Thursday night on the status of a lawsuit the Sierra Club has waged against Tri-State. "Frivolous" is the word Driver used to describe the lawsuit to audience members. He gave several examples of similar cases that were thrown out of court.

The Sierra Club filed a citizen lawsuit against the Craig Station and its owners in October, 1996, citing violations of the Clean Air Act. The Sierra Club alleges Units 1 and 2 at Craig Station violated visible pollution limits about 14,000 times between 1991 and 1996 and is asking that fines of up to $25,000 for each violation be imposed.

In its reply to the lawsuit, Tri-State maintains no violations were made. Officials contend that continuous opacity monitors (COMs) used to measure particulates discharged gave incorrect data and that water droplets in the stacks interfered with the reading.

"We're claiming the COMs are not credible because a lot of times their biased for some reason or another," Driver said.

The continuous opacity monitors are in each of the units and measure the balance of particulates to light. If more than 80 percent light can be measured, the plant is operating within normal and acceptable parameters. According to state law, particulate matter cannot measure more than 20 percent except in certain situations, such as malfunction, start-up or shutdown.

The Sierra Club alleges particulate matter was measured above the 20 percent limit 5,830 times in Unit 1 and 8,584 times in Unit 2. Driver said the Sierra Club didn't take the exceptions to the 20 percent requirement into consideration.

Both sides have been ordered by Federal District Court Judge Edward Nottingham to pursue settlement options. If settlement is not possible, the case will go to trial May 1.

In the meantime, Tri-State is updating expert reports, creating new expert reports and working on a formula to correct the bias of the COM readings.

Tri-State is working to implement capital and operational changes to meet opacity requirements, but Driver said Tri-State was in compliance with state regulations in 1998 and 1999.

"Units 1 and 2 are in compliance and Tri-State is confident the judge will see that," he said.

Tri-State has three units. The lawsuit alleges the violations occurred in Units 1 and 2, which are cleaned with a wet scrubber. The pollution control on Unit 3 is a bag house and a dry scrubber the top of the line in technology.

Driver doesn't believe the Sierra Club is looking for a cash settlement, rather, it wants the installation of state-of-the-art and very expensive pollution-control equipment.

The Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Forest Service have jumped on the bandwagon and are supporting allegations from the Sierra Club.

"We've got a lot of issues we're dealing with in addition to the Sierra Club lawsuit," Driver said, "but we believe we're in compliance."

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