Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

GREAT RIVERS ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER AND THE MISSOURI COALITION FOR THE ENVIRONMENT SUE STATE OF MISSOURI FOR UNCONSTITUTIONALLY PASSING LAW HOSTILE TO STATE PARKS

On behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Thomas Sager, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court on Thursday, May 17, against the state of Missouri over its passage of Senate Bill 35, which makes the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) jump through more hoops, at taxpayer expense, to acquire land for state parks.

The Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Sager challenge the bill because the way the legislature passed it in 2017 was unconstitutional. The law imposes new requirements on the DNR when it purchases land, requirements not imposed on other state agencies. The bill was passed in retaliation to former Governor Jay Nixon’s establishment of four new state parks. SB 35 forces DNR to provide additional public notice to every public official in the counties in which any part of the land lies, publish notice in newspapers, and hold a public hearing in each county.

“SB 35 is a clear attempt by a legislature steeped in anti-environmentalism to inhibit the Department of Natural Resources in performing its constitutional duties with additional and unnecessary taxpayer expense.” said plaintiff Thomas Sager.

“The legislature can’t pass a misleading law by amending a statute that doesn’t even apply to DNR,” said Henry Robertson, Great Rivers’ attorney for the parties.

“Missourians are proud of our outstanding state parks,” said Ed Smith, Policy Director of MCE. “The legislature is trying to stir up opposition to protecting our wild landscapes. This is not what voters wanted when they renewed the state parks and soils conservation tax with nearly 80% support statewide.”

The suit asks the Cole County Circuit Court to declare SB 35 unconstitutional and void.

Great Rivers is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health.  Its web address is: www.greatriverslaw.org.

 The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) state-level conservation organization, is a force for clean air, clean water and clean energy in Missouri. Since 1969 it has educated and activated Missourians to protect the land we all love. Its web address is: www.moenvironment.org.

                                               

Victory for Residents of Franklin County, MO! Planning and Zoning Commission Must Allow People to Speak at Hearings Before Voting – and Construction on a Concrete Plant is Halted!

A decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri today results in a dual victory – protection of the rights of citizens to have their voices heard, and the halting of construction of a concrete plant which threatened the public health and local conservation.

Concerned Citizens Against Landvatter Ready Mix, along with an individual citizen, had appealed a Circuit Court decision upholding a Franklin County Commission rezoning of land to make way for a concrete plant. Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has represented these plaintiffs in this battle since 2014, when Landvatter Ready Mix, Inc. proposed to build a ready-mix concrete plant on tree-covered hills very near the Shaw Nature Reserve in Franklin County. There are houses and apartments in the area between the Nature Reserve and the proposed plant. The homeowners believe the proposed plant will cause them to breathe in dust, suffer from noise and increased traffic, and believe that the wildlife, fish, birds, flora and fauna in the Nature Reserve will also suffer from the plant.

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View of a local yard with tree-covered hills in the background near the proposted concrete plant site. Photo credit Kelly Brothers Mason.

At the hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission, the P & Z did allow the developer to speak, but refused to allow the public to speak before voting to rezone the space to allow the concrete plant to be built.

Kelly Brothers Mason, a resident whose house sits right between the Nature Reserve and the proposed concrete plant, said, “We were not allowed to voice our concerns to the Planning and Zoning board which makes the recommendation to the County Commission, and it approves recommendations 92% of the time. This concrete plant should not be built here; it belongs in an industrial park.”

“P & Z commissioners should look forward to hearing from people about how rezonings will affect them,” said Kathleen Henry, attorney at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “Commissioners won’t know the effects of rezonings if they don’t allow people to speak.”

In a ruling issued May 15, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Eastern District of Missouri held that the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Commission deprived people of due process by not allowing them to speak before voting. People have a right to have their voices heard!

Residents are breathing a sigh of relief today, knowing that construction of the concrete plant has been halted, and this looming threat to the air quality and their health is not moving forward.

Local Activists Work to Restore the Osage River Downstream of Bagnell Dam.

Over the last two years, Norm Prenger and his neighbors have been working to restore the Osage River downstream of Bagnell Dam.  This community has been dealing with severe erosion issues, habitat loss and infrastructure impacts on this section of the lower Osage for decades.   In 2016 Great Rivers met with members of the community and saw the damage caused by the operation of Bagnell Dam first hand.  Land and a roadway continue to slide down into the River.

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View of the severe erosion problem along the lower Osage River.

There is renewed hope.  Over the past few months community members have been meeting with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers, the Lower Osage Flood Control Association, Ameren, the US Dept. of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Conservation, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources with the goal of addressing the harm.  We hope these efforts prove to be successful, and we stand ready to help this community if our services become needed.

NAACP and Ameren Missouri to Work Toward Providing Affordable, Renewable Energy to Low Income and Minority Communities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                        MEDIA CONTACT:
Bruce Morrison: bamorrison@greatriverslaw.org ; (314) 397-2474

St. Louis, MO—In a joint filing with the Missouri Public Service Commission on April 30, 2018, Ameren Missouri and the NAACP have agreed to work together to identify opportunities to provide affordable, renewable energy to persons who reside in low income and minority communities within Ameren Missouri’s service territory.

 “The more than 35 million families in the United States with incomes below twice the federal poverty level use approximately 30 percent of the nation’s residential electricity, but consistently are denied access to clean and affordable wind and solar- generated renewable power,” said Bruce Morrison, Missouri NAACP Environmental Justice Committee Chair and an attorney with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

Through its Environmental and Climate Justice Program, the NAACP works to address Environmental injustice, including the proliferation of climate change, which has a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low income communities.

“At a time when there is growing recognition that Missouri is at the nexus between examining its energy landscape and planning for climate change impacts, the NAACP is compelled to advance an equity based analysis of our energy choices and effects on community well-being, and the environment on which we all rely for our existence,” said NAACP Missouri President Rod Chapel.

ABOUT THE NAACP:

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. You can read more about the NAACP’s work by visiting NAACP.org.

ABOUT GREAT RIVERS ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER:

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health. www.greatriverslaw.org

Great Rivers Files EPA Comments on West Lake Landfill on Behalf of NAACP

Great Rivers attorney Bob Menees filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of the St. Louis County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) on April 23, 2018. In these comments, we advocate for the maximum removal of radioactive waste possible.

On February 6, 2018, the EPA released its Proposed Record of Decision (ROD) for Operable Unit 1 (“OU-1”) at West Lake Landfill. The EPA signaled its preferred alternative of those they outlined was Alternative 4.

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EPA’s proposed alternatives for West Lake Landfill

As we explained in our comment letter to the EPA, only Alternative 7 can provide (1) long-term effectiveness and permanence, (2) a cost-effective solution that considers both long-term operation and maintenance costs and the potential for duplicative costs from groundwater contamination; and (3) a permanent solution to reduce toxicity, mobility, and volume of “radiologically impacted material” (RIM) at the site. Alternative 7 is the only alternative that will foster sustainable, cooperative, and regenerative St. Louis communities.

Click here to read our comment letter in full.

Great Rivers Urges DNR to Protect Human Health in Sewage Treatment Plant in North St. Louis

April 16, 2018. On behalf of the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP and two North St. Louis City residents, Great Rivers filed Comments urging the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to require the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District (“MSD”) to use better public participation practices and to dispose of sewage using anaerobic digestion, methane capture technology, and landfill disposal rather than incineration, because the former leads to better health outcomes, is more economical and is more environmentally friendly.

Residents in North St. Louis City can see a constant trickle of green and yellow haze coming from the stack at Bissell Point after incineration. This may have been an acceptable practice in 1967 when the SSIs were constructed, but is no longer acceptable as a means to address disposal of wastewater sludge. Notably, MSD shut down Incinerator #6, constructed in 1991, which would have been subject to stricter New Source Performance Standards and which would have required reductions in the amounts of pollutants being emitted into the air of St. Louis City residents. Instead, MSD has opted to use four incinerators from 1967 that are exempt from stricter regulation, that continue to leak toxic pollutants into the St. Louis City’s ambient air, and that disproportionately affect low income and minority populations in North St. Louis City, including the Hyde Park, College Hill, and Old North neighborhoods.

Great Rivers urges the DNR to make the permit more protective of human health.

Chocolate Threatened by Climate Change!

Did you know that climate change threatens chocolate? In fact, a 2011 study by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) caused a stir when it suggested that chocolate may go extinct, and that production is expected to decrease noticeably by the year 2030, and the fate of the chocolate market beyond 2050 looks grim. The rising global temperature is expected to make the growing conditions inhospitable for the cocoa plants that produce chocolate in the western African countries who supply a large portion of the globe’s supply of chocolate.

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Scientists and farmers are working hard on identifying how to maintain production as the world warms – such as selectively breeding varieties of cocoa that will withstand the rising temperature and trying out new cultivation methods. (Read more here.)

In the meantime, Great Rivers is working locally to address climate change – for the sake of chocolate, a favorite treat in the office, and for so many other reasons. Our Climate and Energy Program works to promote public health and to decrease carbon pollution by encouraging cleaner energy. Your support makes this possible.

On Sunday, May 6th, 2018, we will hold an event at the Caramel Room at Bissinger’s Chocolate Factory. By attending “Great Rivers at the Chocolate Factory,” you directly impact the local environment and public health – so not only do you get to come savor chocolate, but you’ll know you are helping to save it, too. For the love of chocolate, reserve your ticket today at: https://greatriverslaw.org/events/event-ticketing/

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Climate and Energy Director Henry Robertson Goes to the Missouri Supreme Court for Renewable Energy

Henry Robertson, Climate and Energy Director for Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, is in Jefferson City, Missouri today as the Missouri Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the case for the Clean Line Grain Belt Express. This project would bring clean, renewable, and affordable wind energy from Kansas to the Eastern energy grid. If built, the line will pass through northern Missouri, and will provide some of this energy to local utilities, as well.

Henry is representing our clients the Sierra Club and Renew Missouri in favor of this project. Unlike many transimission lines, which will carry any type of energy across the grid, the Grain Belt Express would transport only wind energy. Addressing the threat of climate change will demand a way to get the cleanest renewable energy from where it is most abundant to where the demand for energy is most abundant – the Grain Belt Express addresses that need.

The Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) rejected the project last fall because it considers itself bound by an opinion of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in a different transmission line case. Clean Line appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, where we intervened on behalf of the Sierra Club and filed a brief in support of Clean Line on November 28, 2017, as co-counsel for Renew Missouri as well.

The Court of Appeals ruled in our favor, and the case has been transferred to the Missouri Supreme Court. We are hopeful that the arguments made this morning in favor of Clean Line by their attorney, Jay Nixon, will lead to cleaner air and more sustainable energy for us all.

16 Years with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center: Tom “Yusha” Sager Looks to the Past and Future as he Retires from the Board of Directors

Tom “Yusha” Sager’s service and dedication have meant a lot to Great Rivers over the years. Next week he offically steps off of our Board of Directors. We will be forever grateful for his service, and will all miss his presence at future meetings.

Yusha wrote some reflections about his 16 years with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did!

16 Years with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center: A Summary
by Tom “Yusha” Sager

When Lewis Green asked me to serve on the Board of Directors of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center 16 years ago, my first thought was why me? I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have any strong connections with St. Louis. I don’t recall his exact words; but he said something like “That’s why I want you on the Board of Directors.” As with everything Lewis said and did, there was a lot of wisdom behind his decision that the Directors of Great Rivers should be a diverse group.

Over the past 16 years I’ve watched Great Rivers double the size of it’s legal staff fromtwo to four attorneys. I’ve watched it chalk up victory after victory from saving Buehler Park in Rolla from commercial development in 2007 to winnng the requirement earlier this month that the Bridgeton Landfill test outfalls and leachate for radiological contamination.

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Sarah Willey speaking to a group at an event in Springfield, Missouri in late 2017.

One of the most positive recent events for Great Rivers was Sarah Willey joining the staff as Director of Development and Community Outreach. Sarah has been traveling up and down the State of Missouri getting the name Great Rivers out before the public. This is a dimension that until recently Great Rivers lacked.

 

 

 

Some thoughts about the future of Great Rivers: I would like to see Great Rivers continue to diversify in all possible ways: professionally, racially and geographically. The environment belongs to us all, and Great Rivers should reflect the entire population of the State of Missouri. I’d like to see Great Rivers continue to challenge polluting industries and the bureaucrats who enable these industries and stand in the way of

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An example of the type of pollution Great Rivers works to reduce.

environmental reform. Should Great Rivers need a plaintiff in a suit against industry or government, I stand ready to do my part.

And I’ve learned a lot over the 16 years I’ve been involved with Great Rivers. I particularly enjoyed filing pro se (with much help from Bruce Morrison) to try to stop an unnecessary road and the ugliest little shopping center on I-44 from coming to Rolla. We delayed them six months and, I believe, came very close to stopping them altogether.

I hope to stay involved with Great Rivers, although I intend to concentrate my waning energies on working for Peace, as I believe very little can be done for the physical environment as long as we remain focused on War and Violence. As the weekly Rolla Peace Vigils enter their 12th year, I hope to continue vigilling for Peace as long as I’m physically able. I also intend to continue volunteering as a  reader and teller of stories in Rolla’s elementary and preschools, with hope that the next generation may do somewhat better for the Earth than my generation.

May Great Rivers continue to be a positive force for our environment.

Yusha

 

Great Rivers Mourns Loss of Louise Green

It is with heavy heart we share the passing of Louise Goold Green on March 11, 2018 at 95 years old. Wife of our founder, Lewis C. Green, and mother of our President, Kathleen Henry, honorary member of our Board, Louise’s loss is felt by all connected to Great Rivers.

To read Louise’s full obituary, please visit the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Gifts in memory of Louise are gratefully accepted at greatriverslaw.org/donate or via mail at: 319 N. Fourth St., Ste. 800, St. Louis, MO 63102.