Sierra Club lawsuit loses momentum |

Sierra Club lawsuit loses momentum

Christina M. Currie

— A lawsuit filed against the owners of the Craig Station electric power plant is progressing slowly.

The Sierra Club filed a citizen suit against Craig Station and its owners in October, 1996, citing violations of the Clean Air Act. The Sierra Club alleges 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 suit, Tri-State maintains that no violations were made according to data from its continuous opacity monitors.

In July, Federal District Court Judge Edward Nottingham ruled on two motions in the case.

The first motion, which Nottingham approved, allowed Tri-State to use its own emissions data collected from the stacks of Unit 1 and Unit 2 of the plant. Attorneys from Tri-State argued that water droplets in the stacks interfered with the monitor and were being reported as particulates. The other motion was an attempt by Tri-State to bring new experts and new reports to the trial, which Nottingham did not allow.

Since those rulings, the court has quieted on this case worth a maximum of $350,000,000 in fines.

Both sides have been ordered by Nottingham to pursue settlement options and the sides plan to meet next month with a mediator to discuss those options.

“There’s been no real progress,” Sierra Club attorney Reed Zars said. “Nothing’s hot on the burner that I can say anything about.”

According to Zars, the Sierra Club, in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency, offered Tri-State a settlement in February, but it has not been formally answered.

“We’re looking for compliance with the regulations and requirements we claim the Craig Station violated,” is all Zars would say about a possible settlement agreement.

According to Tri-State attorney Jim Sanderson, the federal court always encourages parties to consider settlement options because the court dockets are so full.

“We’ll pursue this in more formal mediation with a paid mediator who was a former judge,” he said. “We won’t have a read on the prospects for a while.”

Each month, attorneys provide a status report to Nottingham about settlement discussions. Sanderson said Nottingham will decide, based on those reports, when to schedule a trial.

This round of settlement talks is a new move to resolve the lawsuit without a lengthy trial, Zars said.

If a settlement is unreachable, the judge will order a trial, but when or if that occurs, no one seems to know.

“It looks like it’s progressing,” Zars said. “We’ve got time, but if it’s not going anywhere we’re prepared to throw more time into it. We’re still thinking optimistically.”

Sanderson agreed.

“We’ll put our energy into this and see where it takes us,” he said.