DOJ: News Release

McGrath Seeks to Intervene in Wyoming Case to Protect Water in Southeastern Montana Rivers

HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath on Thursday filed documents motion and memorandum in federal district court in Wyoming seeking to intervene in a case in which a number of energy companies operating in Wyoming are trying to overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of Montana water quality standards for the Tongue and Powder Rivers and their tributaries.

“Montana needs to have a voice in this lawsuit to make sure that our water quality standards are defended as vigorously as possible,” McGrath said. “Our standards are based on sound science. There’s no doubt that, if these companies get away with negating them, water quality in these streams will suffer and it will be Montana irrigators who pay the price in lower production and damaged soils.”

In 2003, the Montana Board of Environmental Review (BER) adopted numeric standards to regulate water quality in the Yellowstone River Basin. The EPA subsequently approved those standards, making them enforceable under the federal Clean Water Act. Under EPA regulations, coal-bed methane companies in Wyoming that discharge water into streams flowing north into Montana must make sure the streams meet the Montana standards at the border. If the standards are disregarded, discharges of tainted water from Wyoming may make the water flowing into the Tongue and Powder Rivers unusable for farmers and ranchers in southeastern Montana.

In April 2006, three energy companies – Pennaco Energy, Inc., Marathon Oil Company and Devon Energy Corporation – filed suit in federal district court in Cheyenne to overturn the EPA’s adoption of those standards. The state of Wyoming has intervened on the side of the coal-bed methane companies.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper supported McGrath’s action. “Montana takes its water quality very seriously and we will take the necessary steps to protect it,” Opper said.

The legal documents filed yesterday note that “As part of the standard-setting process, the Montana BER accepted, reviewed, and responded to volumes of public comment and scientific evidence regarding the proposed adoption of these standards….Clearly, only Montana can adequately represent its interests in this matter.”

“These standards were appropriately approved by the EPA and this legal challenge is without foundation,” McGrath said. “This is obviously a matter of out-of-state energy companies putting their profit margins ahead of our water quality and the agricultural producers who, for generations, have depended on these rivers for their livelihoods.”

McGrath’s office is working with Montana Department of Environmental Quality attorneys to defend the process the EPA used to approve the BER regulations.

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