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N.D. coal plants pose no serious risk to waters, report finds

BISMARCK -- A report issued Tuesday highlighting the harmful effects coal-powered plants have on natural water resources found that North Dakota's six coal plants do not pose a serious risk to the state's rivers and lakes.

A nationwide coalition of environmental and clean water groups issued "Closing the floodgates: How the coal industry is poisoning our water and how we can stop it," which details the water permits for the 386 coal plants across the country.

The report highlights the plants in Mercer, Oliver and Morton counties, saying none of them has impaired any natural water resource with toxic byproducts such as arsenic, mercury and lead.

Wayde Schafer, organizing representative for the Sierra Club's Dacotah Chapter, said while the report doesn't point out alarming issues, it helps illustrate the damage coal plants are capable of.

"North Dakota doesn't stand out as a real hotspot, but we do have these power plants on major water sources, so it is definitely something we need to keep an eye on," he said.

Dennis Fewless, director of the division of water quality under the Department of Health, said the state's safeguards help ensure clean and safe natural waters.

If high levels of certain toxins are detected coming from a plant, the state would limit how much water can be discharged.

No limits have been placed on a North Dakota plant.

"We don't see it as an issue in North Dakota," he said. "We feel comfortable there is a good system to catch any of these parameters that would cause concern."

He said the coal-powered plants are doing well since many are recycling their waste to cut down on treatment costs.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.