Capping Coal Ash offers Short Term Savings to Ameren but Long Term Risks to Missourians
On May 31, 2019, Great Rivers Staff Attorney Bob Menees and summer interns attended a public hearing hosted by Ameren about the future of an unlined coal ash pond at Sioux Energy Center in West Alton, MO. Coal ash (often referred to as coal combustion residuals or “CCRs”) can contain heavy metals such as arsenic, chromium, lead, and molybdenum, which have serious health and ecological effects. At Sioux, elevated levels of molybdenum in the groundwater exceeded regulations by up to forty-eight times the limit deemed safe for human health by the EPA.
A 2015 EPA regulation, called the CCR Rule, required Ameren to prepare a report assessing different options to close its unlined coal ash ponds and to present the report to the public at a meeting. At the meeting, Great Rivers urged Ameren to reconsider their clear preference for “closure-in-place.” Closure in place caps the ash pond with a geomembrane and cover, leaving the coal ash in an unlined cell in the floodplain indefinitely into the future- a ‘solution’ that will continue to contaminate groundwater and surface water.
Great Rivers, other environmental groups, and other concerned citizens argued for Ameren to adopt a “closure-by-removal” plan, which would permanently remove the coal ash to a commercial landfill and would prevent further contamination of groundwater and surface water. Ameren opposes “closure-by-removal” due to the cost and time they calculated it would take to remove the coal ash. In addition to the pond closing at Sioux, Ameren ash ponds at Labadie, Rush Island, and Meramec, are also scheduled to close and Ameren has indicated a reference for “closure-in-place” at all its coal ash ponds at each energy center. On June 7, on behalf of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, Bob Menees filed comments urging Ameren to listen to the people and place the interests of the community first in their final closure plan determination.
Ameren plans to close all ash ponds by 2023 and instead utilize new technology to create dry coal ash, which will be stored in lined landfills and not unlined ash ponds. However, continued burning of coal will only exacerbate climate change. With Meramec closing in 2022, Great Rivers urges Ameren to be forward-thinking by closing the rest of their coal-based power plants and switching to greener alternatives.
Great Rivers Intern Jacob Britz attended the University of Chicago and received degrees in Chemistry and Geophysical Sciences. Prior to entering law school at Washington University, he worked as a field chemist for a hazardous waste disposal company. At Wash U, he is an active member of the Energy and Environmental Law Society, and with his free time he enjoys running in Forest Park. He one day hopes to work in water rights litigation in the Southwest.