U.S. Water News Online
BILLINGS, Mont. -- Wyoming, Montana and the Environmental
Protection Agency are making progress toward settling a lawsuit over
Montana's water quality rules on the Tongue and Powder rivers,
according to court records.
U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Cheyenne recently granted
a motion from the Wyoming attorney general's office to delay
litigation until Oct. 7 so talks could continue.
In court papers filed in early August, Wyoming Attorney General
Pat Crank said the parties were making real progress toward resolving
Crank, who left office to enter private practice, stated that the
parties were committed to continue meeting, but hadn't reached an
agreement because of the complexity of the issues.
"The outlines of how Montana, Wyoming and the EPA might administer
water quality on the Tongue River, the Powder River and their
respective tributaries is taking shape," Crank said.
Crank said another 60 days would give the parties time to draft a
proposed settlement that the governors of the two states and other
parties in the case could consider.
The dispute centers on water-quality standards for salinity that
Montana adopted in 2003 and which the EPA approved for the Tongue and
Powder rivers and their tributaries. The rivers start in Wyoming and
flow into Montana.
Montana officials say the standards are intended to protect
against discharges of salty groundwater produced by drilling for
Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal has objected to the Montana
standards. In April 2006, he asked the EPA to reject Montana's rules
on the grounds that they would harm natural gas production in
Three energy companies -- Pennaco Energy Inc., Marathon Oil Co.
and Devon Energy Corp. -- also sued the EPA in Wyoming seeking to
overturn the agency's decision. Wyoming joined the case on the side
of the companies, while Montana intervened to defend its standards.
Several other companies, environmental organizations and irrigators
also have entered the suit.
The EPA started mediation with Wyoming and Montana and with the
Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The EPA and the two states asked Brimmer
nearly a year ago to put litigation on hold. The parties have been
meeting since then and have been providing the judge with status
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