Critics urge Missouri to block Ameren wastewater plan

Lori Amos
The Rolla Daily News

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Environmental lawyers and activists are urging state regulators to block a wastewater proposal for Ameren's largest coal plant, saying it could threaten the endangered pallid sturgeon and other species that live in the Missouri River. 

The proposed wastewater permit before the Department of Natural Resources loosens prior requirements. Critics say it would allow the plant to release unlawfully hot water and fails to take appropriate action to regulate groundwater and river contamination from the site's coal ash ponds, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

"It's the biggest power plant in the state and one of the biggest in the country. It should be regulated as such," said Peter Goode, an environmental engineer and law lecturer at Washington University's Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, which tracks pollution issues tied to Ameren. "DNR is not really holding Ameren accountable."

The dispute continues a saga of environmental concerns at the coal plant, the Labadie Energy Center in Franklin County — and adds to overarching complaints about how state regulators treat Ameren's top power plant.

The water pollution permit issued in 2015 prompted a legal challenge from the Sierra Club. Five years after filing the case, and more than two years after a hearing on the matter, the organization is still awaiting a decision from the state's Administrative Hearing Commission.

Labadie is also among the largest coal-fired power plants in the country without air-pollution controls called "scrubbers" — a technology that removes sulfur dioxide from emissions, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to install and, if required, could force the facility's closure by rendering it uneconomical.

In an emailed statement, DNR did not address a range of questions from the Post-Dispatch, but said that its permits comply with federal laws and that "community members who claim that this permit violates the Clean Water Act by not addressing groundwater contamination from coal ash ponds are mistaken."

Ameren denied that the proposed permit would weaken any aspects of oversight.

"It absolutely is not less stringent," said Craig Giesmann, Ameren Missouri's senior manager of environmental services. "We want to ensure environmental stewardship at all times, because we're part of these communities."