Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Protecting the Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Great Rivers has raised legal concerns about a National Park Service plan to manage illegally created roads and trails within the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The Scenic Riverways are a highlight of Missouri’s natural resources and a favorite destination of over a million nature enthusiasts each year. The clean, cool waters of its rivers feed from jewel-toned blue springs, offering once-in-a-lifetime experiences to canoers, swimmers, and fishermen. At last count the waters and the surrounding park provided habitat to a known 112 species of fish, 197 species of birds, over 1,000 varieties of plants, and 58 types of mammals. 

The cool waters (58 degrees Fahrenheit) of Alley Spring in the Ozark Scenic National Riverways provide delicate habitat for colorful Ozark fishes like the southern redbelly dace, the Ozark sculpin, and the bleeding shiner.

Unfortunately, the ecological stability of the Riverways has come under assault by the proliferation of illegal roads and trails traversing this fragile and precious park. Largely created by horse riders and off-road and all-terrain vehicles leaving the designated trails and roadways of the park, these illegal traces, river crossings and trails can cause significant disturbances to creek beds, water quality, vegetation, and wildlife.

Even more unfortunately, the Park Service seeks in their proposed plan to standardize and make legal this destructive abuse of the park by authorizing many of these illegal roads and trails.

Great Rivers staff believes that the Scenic Riverways should be enjoyed – but they must be enjoyed responsibly. Our use of these pristine areas must be undertaken with care in a way that will safeguard them today and for future generations.

Great Rivers has raised several concerns of the legality of the Park Services’ process and proposed plan and its alternatives. Our concerns include the Park Service’s failure to honestly assess the environmental impacts of their proposed plan and their improper prioritization of recreation within the parks over resource protection when the parks are already taxed by illegal roads and trails.

NPS estimates that 1.3 million guests enjoy the Scenic Riverways each year.

We further allege that the Park Service attempts to justify its decision to increase user access at the expense of resource protection by presenting a false choice to the public in their proposed plan.  The Park Service hides behind a lack of funding and mismanagement that has resulted in the degraded condition from illegal roads and trails, while claiming that somehow increasing trails and roads subject to funding will result in better protection.

If lack of funding caused the expanse of illegal trails and roads in the first place, it is unclear how NPS’s plan that authorizes increased trails and roads in the park will result in better on-the-ground conditions at the parks.

An improper plan won’t just be irresponsible — it will be counterproductive. Through posing threats to water quality and wildlife populations of the park, a bad plan would reduce the parks’ ecological significance and their ephemeral qualities that make them special to so many.

Great Rivers raised these concerns in comments on behalf of the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, a nonprofit organization with the goal of providing drinkable, fishable, and swimmable water to all residents of the State of Missouri.

You can read the full comments here.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

How to Make the Most of Nature: Activities and Outings for Families to Prevent Nature-Deficit Disorder

Spending time in nature has proven to be a lifesaver during the pandemic — after all, exploring local parks, hiking trails, or even just relaxing in your backyard are all safe ways to escape being stuck inside while maintaining social distancing guidelines. But as it turns out, being outside has a whole host of physical and mental health benefits that will last long after COVID has passed.

The benefits of nature immersion are practically endless for children and families. At the same time, many people in modern society suffer from something called nature-deficit disorder — a stark lack of green spaces and outdoor experiences.

To remedy this problem, try a few of these activities with your child or the whole family.

Start Finding Nature (and Enhancing Play) at Home

Help your children see the joy and wonder of nature right in their own backyard.

Rainy Day Outdoor Activities for Kids
How to Teach a Kid to Safely Climb a Tree
DIY Mud Kitchen in One Weekend

Venture Farther for Nature Immersion and Recreation

Expand their horizons in nearby parks and recreational areas to help them connect with nature.

Kayaking with Kids: A Beginner’s Guide
4 Tips When Mountain Biking with Your Child
Learning the Ropes: A Beginner’s Guide to Rock Climbing with Kids
How to Make Hiking Fun with Kids

Add an Unexpected Dash of Adventure

When the time is right, add a dose of outdoor adventure.

The Ultimate Treasure Hunt – Geocaching with Kids
How to Start Stargazing with Your Kids
How to Safely Observe Wildlife from Your Home
The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Camping
How to Build Your Own Backyard Zipline

The best protection against nature deficit disorder is a daily dose of outdoor adventure.
Fortunately, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to start exploring here. You’ll also find inspiration
for encouraging everyone in your family to embrace the backyard — and beyond.

Photos from Pixabay and Pexels

Attorney Spotlight – Sarah Rubenstein

What engendered your passion for the environment?

From a very young age I’ve been a lover of the natural world and animals. My parents taught us by example – through gardening, hiking, spending time outside, appreciating nature. When I learned about environmental degradation in high school, I decided to study the subject in college and then to devote my career to protecting the natural world. I remain firmly committed to the idea that all of the world’s living things and creatures deserve protection. As humans, we need to live in unity with our natural world. And I believe that holds true for all people, no matter their nationality, gender, skin color, age or socio-economic position.

What inspired you to become a lawyer?

Many years ago I worked as an intern for the Environmental Defense Fund in DC. The organization was made up of a group of attorneys and scientists working together to better the natural world. I was struck during my time at EDF that the attorneys seemed to have the most luck making headway in accomplishing their goals. I decided to go to law school to marry my interest in protecting the natural world with what I observed at EDF. 

What do you hope to accomplish through your work at Great Rivers?

I hope to use my skills in litigation and environmental law to protect our natural world. I hope to bring environmental justice to the many who have shouldered an unfair burden. I hope to improve air quality in our region. I hope to help force Missouri’s utilities to transition away from coal and towards renewables. I hope to protect the magnificent rivers of our region. I hope to protect the species that are threatened or endangered in our area. I could go on and on, as there is so much important work still to be done! I hope my work will make a difference in getting us further towards those goals.

What has been the most rewarding case you’ve taken on? What cases are you most proud of your involvement in?

Our work to force Missouri to comply with Title VI has been very rewarding. For too long, Missouri has ignored legal requirements to operate with transparency, to involve the impacted public in its decision-making processes, and to consider the cumulative impacts of its decisions on Missouri citizens. It was very rewarding to have our Title VI complaint against the state be accepted by EPA, and to see EPA issue preliminary findings of discrimination. It will be exciting to see what kinds of change our complaint brings about in how Missouri protects the environment.

What’s been the most difficult case you’ve worked on?

We are working to help a neighborhood organization in Hyde Park, in North St. Louis, address pollution caused by a nonconforming industrial business located in their otherwise residential neighborhood. As a result of the company’s apparent lack of respect for local zoning and land-use laws, and the City’s utter failure to enforce its ordinances, the company has been able to continue operating improperly, disposing of waste in the neighborhood. We have tried for the last several years to convince the company to clean up its act, or the City to take action, but the neighbors have seen no change. As a result, we are currently preparing to bring litigation against the company. While litigation will be costly and time consuming, hopefully it will bring justice to the neighbors we represent. I wish this matter did not take so long to rectify, and remain concerned that the failure of the company and the City to act is based on the fact that the neighborhood is composed of predominantly low-income, minority residents.

Do you see any intersectionality between environmental law and other issue areas?

There is intersectionality with so much of what we do. Our work intersects with race relations, and that area thankfully appears to be gaining more deserved attention after George Floyd and with our current presidential administration. Our work intersects with energy policy and law as our country grapples with climate change and how to respond to it. Our work intersects with food justice and the agricultural industry, as we reckon with how farming policy impacts our natural world.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

My husband and I love to travel. I also love horses and ride competitively. I own three lovely horses of my own and compete with them in my spare time in competitions around the country.

Are there any memorable moments you’ve had with a client and/or situations you’ve witnessed that stuck with you?

I have had many. One that sticks out involved a family we helped who was experiencing a serious problem with contaminated wastewater discharges emanating from a nursing home located immediately adjacent to their rural home. Although the nursing home was connected to the local town sewer system, it utilized a system of holding tanks to regulate its discharge to the town system, which appeared to be grossly undersized for the size of the expanding town. During significant rain events, the holding tanks at the nursing home would fill up, and raw wastewater would literally spray like a fountain out of the nursing home’s backup pipes, onto our client’s property, eventually flowing into nearby creeks. This prevented our client from being able to use her property to the fullest, or to allow her grandchildren to play outside when visiting her. We helped bring the nursing home into compliance, which served to protect our client, as well as the nearby creek, from subsequent discharges from the nursing home. When I spoke with our client after the improvements were made, she started to cry tears of joy and appreciation for our efforts. That moment made me realize how important and meaningful what we do is to people.

Retiring but not Slowing Down

Staff held a dinner this summer following Henry’s last day. From Left to Right: Linden Mueller, Katy Henry, David Henry, Henry Robertson, Dianne Klein, Bob Menees, Alice Menees, Sage Menees, Bruce Morrison

After more than 15 years working at Great Rivers to bring renewable energy to Missouri, Henry Robertson has decided to continue that work in a new capacity – as a volunteer.

We will miss his daily presence in the office but are delighted he’ll still be at our side, counseling our strategy and assisting our climate and energy work.

And we can’t wait to celebrate him. This year the Board of Directors has decided to award the Lewis C. Green Environmental Service Award to two outstanding individuals who have given a lifetime of service to the protection of Missouri’s environment and public health. Henry is to be one of those individuals.

We hope you will join us this year at the Fall Awards Celebration as we honor his career of service protecting all of us from the devastating threat of climate change. His dedication is an inspiration.

You can learn more about the event and purchase tickets here.

Meet our 2021 Interns

Cynthia Boxerman – Legal Intern, Summer

Cynthia is a licensed Missouri attorney who served as a Public Defender in the St. Louis City Trial Office and as trial counsel for the Missouri Department of Social Services. She will return to Loyola University Chicago this fall to finish coursework for a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Sustainability. She is married with three adult children and enjoys gardening, making stained glass windows, fusing glass and spending time with her family and dog Dolly.

Nicole Franki – Legal Intern, Summer

Nicole is a rising 2L at Columbia Law School. Hailing from Rochester, NY, she graduated from the University of Rochester with B.A.s in environmental studies and political science. Nicole hopes to use her law degree to participate in the environmental justice movement and assist the effort to equitably protect communities from environmental harm. In her free time, she enjoys playing the piano and trying out vegan recipes.

Kat King – Legal Intern, Summer

Kat is a student at the UC Berkley School of Law. Originally from Tampa, Florida, she graduated from the University of Virginia with a B.A. in Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law. Kat worked as a management consultant in San Francisco before heading to law school. She hopes to use her law degree to support communities fighting for environmental health and environmental justice. When not working, Kat enjoys exploring northern California and beyond with her husband, rock climbing, hiking, biking, camping, and skiing. At home, she dabbles in vegan cooking and meticulously tends her houseplants and container garden.

Chase Lindemann – Legal Intern, Summer

Chase graduated from the University of Rochester in 2019 with a BA in Economics and Physics, and Minors in Mathematics, Legal Studies, and Computer Science. Chase will be entering his third year of law school at the University of Minnesota in the fall and hopes to continue working in public interest environmental law upon graduating. In his free time, Chase enjoys going on walks and hikes, listening to podcasts or music, and watching New York sports teams disappoint.

Maya Mehrotra – Outreach and Development Intern, Summer

Maya is a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis where she is pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Engineering. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to one day use her degree to tackle both environmental and social issues. When not studying in St. Louis, she is in her hometown of Chicago where she is probably running, reading, painting, or chasing after her dog. Maya has always loved the outdoors and has lately spent her free time stargazing at national parks. 

Gwen Short – Legal Intern, Summer

Gwen is working towards her J.D. at Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Before law school, she worked as an outdoor educator in California teaching scientific concepts, facilitating team building activities, and having a lot of fun in the outdoors. Gwen viewed this work as advocacy for our planet and has now shifted from educational advocacy to legal advocacy. In her free time, Gwen likes to play rugby, go on runs, and is learning to garden.

Sasha St. Juste – Legal Intern, Summer

Sasha is a rising 3L student at Vermont Law School obtaining a J.D and Masters in Energy Regulation and Law. She is interested in implementing energy solutions to low-income communities as a means to address the disparate environmental impact on these communities. While living in New York, Sasha spends her off time making and decorating candles as a peaceful hobby.

Zachary Stevens – Legal Intern, Summer

Zach is going into his senior year at Lindenwood University in St. Louis and will be graduating in 2022 with a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Biology. Born and raised in St. Louis, he has enjoyed the outdoors since early childhood. He is primarily interested in the protection of wildlife around the state, and in fighting for stronger environmental policies throughout the Midwest. Outside of work, Zach is most often found on a tennis court or hiking somewhere in Missouri. 

Andrea White – Legal Intern, Summer

Andrea graduated with a B.S. in Environment and Sustainability from Cornell University and will be a second-year law student next fall at UC Berkeley. While growing up in southern California, she realized the importance of environmental protections, which inspired her to pursue a career in environmental law. In her free time, she enjoys running half marathons, reading, and getting bubble tea with her friends.

Wade Wilson – Outreach and Development Intern, Summer

Wade recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a B.A. in Environmental Policy. Growing up in North Carolina, Wade enjoyed spending summers hiking, camping and fishing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which cultivated his care for the environment. He’s particularly interested in clean energy and its ability to power our lifestyles in an efficient and renewable way. Wade’s hobbies include watching sports, playing violin and guitar, talking about politics, and spending time with friends and family.

Sen. Blunt’s Wildlife Act is a Win for the Environment and for Smart Governance

Bipartisanship is rare these days in Washington, D.C. Given the immense polarization of our politics, it merits celebration when players from both sides of the aisle come together to provide real, tangible solutions to pressing issues. On July 20th, 2021, Senators Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, and Roy Blunt, a Republican and the dean of Missouri’s congressional delegation, introduced the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). In a press release, Sen. Blunt’s office claimed that the “landmark bill would make the largest, most significant investment in wildlife and habitat conservation in a generation.” In a world where it can be difficult to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on what to name a post office, the passage of this legislation would be a major accomplishment.

At a time when we are facing a sixth major extinction event and massive habitat degradation, RAWA would lead to big improvements in conservation and restoration efforts nationwide. The Act provides $1.3 billion in annual funding to help protect over 12,000 different species of animals and plants, as well as $97.5 million of additional funds to Tribal nations that oversee 140 million acres of land. Since 2005, each U.S. state and territory has had a State Wildlife Action Plan, developed by scientists and stakeholders and approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. RAWA ensures that conservation efforts will be in accordance with these Plans, to “identify specific strategies to restore the populations of species of greatest conservation need.” Notably, the bill would direct the money collected by fines for environmental malpractice towards wildlife conservation and recovery. RAWA aims to target these funds to facilitate the recovery of endangered or threatened plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. All together, these provisions would go a long way towards protecting wildlife and repairing the damage humans have done to it.

At a time when we are facing a sixth major extinction event, the Act provides $1.3 billion in annual funding to help protect over 12,000 different species of animals and plants

Senator Blunt believes that RAWA will help the state preserve its natural beauty, stating, “Missouri is home to some of the best hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation our country has to offer. We can better protect our land, waterways, and wildlife by encouraging states, territories, and Tribes to make significant contributions to voluntary conservation efforts. I’m proud to help introduce this bill that will help preserve our nation’s wildlife for future generations.” Other Missouri leaders and groups have endorsed the bill, including Missouri Department of Conservation director Sara Parker Pauley, Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris, and the Conservation Federation of Missouri. 

The companion bill in the House was introduced by Representatives Jeff Forntenberry (R-Nebraska) and Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan). Rep. Fortenberry is a conservative member of the Republican Study Committee while Rep. Dingell is in the left-wing Congressional Progressive Caucus. Despite the many political differences between the four lead sponsors, they recognize the necessity of quick and robust action to conserve nature. In the House, Kansas City, MO Democrat Emmanuel Cleaver, Springfield, MO Republican Billy Long, and Taylorville, IL Republican Rodney Davis are all co-sponsors of the legislation. We hope that more regional Congressmembers of both parties sign on in support.

Despite the many political differences between the four lead sponsors, they recognize the necessity of quick and robust action to conserve nature

At the national and international level, RAWA is backed by a wide variety of organizations with diverse political leanings. The National Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Bat Conservation International, The Wildlife Society, The National Audubon Society and ConservAmerica all have come out in support of the legislation.

It remains to be seen whether RAWA will be a stand alone bill or will be attached to the annual budget or a potential infrastructure package. Given that the latter two are likely to be partisan votes, Great Rivers believes that an overwhelming, bipartisan vote in favor of singular legislation would be the best way to demonstrate the government’s commitment to wildlife conservation. Nonetheless, it is very encouraging to see Republicans and Democrats working together to protect wildlife, and we hope that this is a sign of more environmental action to come. 

All images were retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, and provided by Yinan Chen, the U.S. Senate, and Steve Hillebrand respectively.

Wade Wilson recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a B.A. in Environmental Policy. He’s particularly interested in clean energy and its ability to power our lifestyles in an efficient and renewable way. Wade’s hobbies include watching sports, playing the violin and guitar, talking about politics and spending time with friends and family.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Great Rivers Submits Comments to EPA on Lead and Copper Rule Revision

Madeline Middlebrooks
Madeline Middlebrooks

Madeline Middlebrooks, our Equal Justice Works Fellow, has been working on lead contamination issues present in St. Louis area schools. Across the United States, children are being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead at school. Children who attend schools in the St. Louis area also suffer this injustice. This occurs because, under US EPA’s 1991 Lead and Copper Rule, if a school receives its water from a public water utility, it is not required to test for lead in potable fixtures inside the school building. Lead may leach into drinking water after the water enters the building.

To address these concerns EPA is proposing to revise its Lead and Copper Rule. The newly proposed rule is a step in the right direction. Under the proposed rule public water utilities will be required to conduct sampling at elementary schools one time over a five-year period and upon request thereafter. Regrettably, the new rule does not require any remedial action if high levels of lead are found, nor does the proposed rule require any testing for lead in secondary schools.

Although EPA’s proposed revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule are a step in the right direction, they are insufficient to protect children from lead exposure.

Madeline has submitted formal comments to EPA and has engaged EPA at community listening sessions over these deficiencies. If EPA does not cure the defects in the proposed rule, children still will be exposed to dangerous lead levels while attending school.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

New Report Exposes Shortcomings in Missouri Utilities’ Climate Pledges

Sierra Club, one of our clients, released a report in April called The Dirty Truth about Utility Climate Pledges. It grades the nation’s biggest utilities on how they’re doing at retiring coal plants, renouncing natural gas plants and moving to clean energy. It gave Ameren Missouri a “D.” Evergy and Associated Electric Cooperatives, Inc, each got an “F.” The best a Missouri utility could do was a “C,” earned by Empire District Electric.

Missouri burns more coal for electricity than any other state except Texas. Great Rivers is before the Missouri Public Service Commission on several fronts, working for change so that our utilities wisely invest more of our ratepayer dollars in wind and solar.

Missouri burns the second most coal of any state in the country.

Ameren’s 20-year plan

On this matter, we represent Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Dutchtown South Community Corporation, New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, and the Missouri NAACP.  Although solar and wind power are cheaper, Ameren still insists that it’s the exception to this rule – if it is, it’s only because its coal plants are old and lack up-to-date pollution controls. Ameren claims it needs coal for reliability since solar and wind are intermittent, but it is missing the accelerating trend toward energy storage, especially utility-scale batteries they can use when the sun is down and the wind doesn’t blow.

Ameren is running a risk by trying to hang on to its coal plants while adding renewables: it has no right to make its customers pay for more power-generating capacity than they need, and we oppose its efforts to do so.  At the same time, Ameren is taking strides in providing clean, renewable energy to low income and minority communities.  We support these efforts.

Great Rivers supports the strides some local utilities are making to provide clean, renewable energy to low income and minority communities.

Ameren rate case

In this PSC proceeding we represent Sierra Club. Ameren is asking for a hefty additional ratepayer contribution of just under $300 million. It has just brought two large wind farms into service, but it says this will add minimally to our bills because most of the cost will be offset by federal tax credits and sales into the wholesale market.

Ameren also wants to expand its Community Solar Program, which lets customers subscribe to new solar facilities even if they can’t put solar panels on their roofs. They would make it much more widely available and allow people to subscribe for 100% of their usage instead of the current 50% limit. We support this.

Community solar programs make renewable energy more accessible to homeowners.

Evergy’s plan to electrify transportation

Evergy wants permission to expand incentives and charging stations for residential and commercial electric vehicles (EVs). We strongly support EVs if they will be able to charge with clean energy. Our clients Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council will be collaborating on expert testimony, which is sure to include recommendations on public transit and EV accessibility at multi-family dwellings and in lower- and moderate-income communities.

Evergy’s 20-year plan

Every three years each regulated utility updates its long-range plan. This coming year is Evergy’s turn. As with Ameren, we will be urging faster retirement of coal units, more wind and solar, and energy storage to smooth out the peaks and dips in sun and wind.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Great Rivers Engages MDNR to Improve Missouri’s Air Quality

These past several months Great Rivers has been working hard to protect air quality throughout Missouri. The cumulative effects of exposure to multiple sources of air pollution – especially in the young and the elderly – increases one’s risk of developing asthma and other respiratory illnesses, cancer, and heart disease. We also sadly learned this last year that these types of cumulative air exposures increase the likelihood of worse outcomes after contracting COVID-19.

Air pollution is a threat multiplier, including for symptoms of COVID-19.

In the last year we have engaged the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) on sixteen draft air pollution permits, as well as on proposed amendments to the State’s plan to implement the federal Clean Air Act. Our work has taken us to North St. Louis, South St. Louis, Kansas City, Howardville, Marston, Springfield and Farmington.

In the last year Great Rivers has engaged MDNR on 16 draft air pollution permits… Our work has taken us to North St. Louis, South St. Louis, Kansas City, Howardville, Marston, Springfield and Farmington.

Highlighting some recent work in Springfield, Missouri, the Springfield City Utilities sought to renew its operating permit and to amend one of its construction permits for its coal-fired power plant. While many of Missouri’s coal plants are located in rural areas, the Springfield coal plant is located upwind from Missouri’s third largest city. 25,767 Missourians, including 7,020 children, live within three miles of the plant, and nine schools are located within a three-mile radius. A twelve-mile radius from the plant captures most of Springfield, which has a population totaling 289,636 Missourians, of which 73,796 are children.

Springfield sits downwind from a coal plant, jeopardizing local health.
(Photo via Real Window Creative/Shutterstock)

In the draft permit, MDNR proposed dropping any requirement that the facility monitor for emissions of hazardous air pollutants. Because of the risk of serious harm to the health of the many Missourians living nearby in the case of an accidental emission of hazardous pollutants from the Facility, Great Rivers, on behalf of our client Sierra Club, is fighting to retain the hazardous air monitoring requirements for the Facility. We have also asked DNR to bolster monitoring and record keeping requirements at the Facility.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Local Podcast Highlights Community Reaction to Great Rivers’ EPA Complaint

Pictured: Satellite image of the Kinder Morgan Terminal (via googlemaps)

Lauren Brown and Jia Lian Yang’s podcast, We Live Here, focuses on St. Louis stories about race and class. Great Rivers is featured in the following two episodes: Part I: Tenant Rights & Resistance and Part II: Civil Rights & Cumulative Impacts.

For nearly nine months, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has been involved in a Title VI proceeding pending before the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”). The complaint was filed against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (“MDNR”) and alleges that MDNR’s issuing of an air pollution permit to Kinder Morgan Transmix LLC discriminated against low-income communities of color. It also addresses MDNR’s long-term failure to fulfill expectations outlined by federal nondiscrimination laws. In their latest two part series, Lauren Brown and Jia Lian Yang, hosts of the St. Louis podcast We Live Here, sat down with Great Rivers’ attorneys Sarah Rubenstein and Bob Menees, as well as community organizer Myisha Johnson, to discuss the complaint, the impact of polluters, and what EPA’s findings mean for the future of all Missourians.

Myisha Johnson is a St. Louis local and an advocate for tenants rights. She is featured in We Live Here‘s latest two part series: Part I: Tenant Rights & Resistance and Part II: Civil Rights & Cumulative Impacts. View this photo, episodes, and more on We Live Here‘s page with St. Louis Public Radio. You can listen to the episodes through the links above or wherever you get your podcasts.

Yang introduces Johnson as “a tenant living in South St. Louis City [and] one of the three working members of State Streets Tenants Resistance.” She and her fellow members are usually busy educating tenants and fighting for concrete gains such as a Tenants Bill of Rights. However, lately she finds herself up against not just landlords, but polluters and state agencies. The Kinder Morgan facility in her neighborhood poses major health risks — ones Johnson has experienced firsthand. She lost both of her parents to cancer and was diagnosed with stage two cancer herself. But this was not just a family issue. Myisha “noticed that some of the neighbors would get lumps and bumps all over their body… [and] that a lot of children that were growing up in that community had learning disabilities.” Animals started dying too and although the trend was clear, she couldn’t find an explanation. Johnson then learned that “polluting companies,” such as Kinder Morgan, “were being issued permits in her neighborhood, with little to no community engagement from the state.” Usually, “predominantly Black and brown St. Louis City neighborhoods weren’t informed” about facilities or permits.

“But this time, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center was paying attention and [wasn’t] going to let it slide.”

– Jia Lian Yang, We Live Here

Myisha felt excited that there was finally someone to hold polluters and state agencies accountable and to amplify the community’s voice. Within a few months of filing the complaint, EPA made its preliminary finding that MDNR had indeed “violated federal civil rights regulations.” Great Rivers Attorney Sarah Rubenstein felt a similar excitement as she reflected on the community impact of the finding.

“We are providing an important mechanism for members of the public to engage with the state,” she said.

The Great Rivers attorneys hope that this increased engagement leads the state to look at cumulative impacts instead of working on a case-by-case basis. Attorney Bob Menees believes that “MDNR should be doing a lot more in urban areas as it relates to their permitting program to ensure that they’re providing meaningful access to communities that are disproportionately impacted by health impacts.”

“Our hopes would be if EPA compels DNR to make these changes, that it results in first ensuring that there isn’t discrimination and then secondarily, meaningful involvement of all people in environmental processes and programs.”

Bob Menees

Maya Mehrotra is a rising sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis studying environmental engineering. She is passionate about social justice and hopes to one day use her degree to tackle both environmental and social issues. When not studying in St. Louis, she can be found in her hometown, Chicago, where she is probably running, reading, or stargazing.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

President’s Letter

What a difference a year makes! Fourteen months ago, the world went virtual, as did Great Rivers. But it was no time for us to go slow. The federal government’s environmental rollbacks were rolling along, one after another.

One year later the wind is at our backs. At the federal level, protecting and preserving the environment is front and center, as is protecting the public health and standing up for environmental justice. The federal government is rolling back the former administration’s environmental rollbacks, one after another. At the state level, we are pushing back hard against the all too often, half-hearted efforts of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Within our law center, we are coming out of the pandemic as strong as ever. All staff who were with us at the start of the pandemic are with us today, and our work load needs every one of them, and then some! There are urgent needs in all six of our programs.

Our work to protect our lands, air, and waters these past fourteen months would not have happened without you. We always are grateful that you make us go. As we transition back to our downtown office from our home offices, please do stop by to say hello. We can’t wait to see you in person soon.


Bruce Morrison Smiles

Bruce Morrison is an environmental attorney and serves as President of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

EPA finds MDNR Non-Discrimination Requirements Inadequate

Pictured: A hand-painted sign decorates a community garden in the Dutchtown neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Residents of the community experience elevated health risks such as cancer as a result of increased exposure to air toxics.

Last fall, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Missouri State Conference, the NAACP St. Louis City Branch, and the Dutchtown South Community Corporation, filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (“MDNR”) claiming that the state agency discriminated against low-income and minority communities in issuing an air pollution permit to Kinder Morgan Transmix LLC located in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis City. The complaint also alleges that MDNR has failed to comply with federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations in its various environmental programs.  EPA accepted the complaint for investigation.

The facility whose permit the complaint centered around is just one of many MDNR has granted “permission to pollute” in an industrial corridor immediately adjacent to the Dutchtown neighborhood in St. Louis, MO.

During EPA’s investigation of the complaint, EPA afforded MDNR the opportunity to work with Great Rivers and the community groups they represent through alternative dispute resolution, but MDNR refused to cooperate.  EPA also offered MDNR the opportunity to informally resolve the complaint with EPA, but the agency likewise refused this opportunity. Instead, MDNR attempted to rectify the issues raised in the complaint haphazardly by creating insufficient internal policies to cover up that it had over the years fallen woefully short of meeting its obligations regarding federal nondiscrimination laws and regulations.

Despite MDNR’s last minute and disingenuous efforts, on March 31, 2021, EPA issued its preliminary findings that MDNR has failed to comply with its obligations under the federal nondiscrimination laws and EPA’s nondiscrimination regulations to have and implement a nondiscrimination program.

EPA concluded that MDNR ignored concerns raised over the years by Great Rivers about its failure to have in place a nondiscrimination program consistent with its longstanding legal obligations.

“We appreciate EPA’s preliminary findings in response to our complaint. For years, we have raised these issues with MDNR, but the agency has consistently told us we are wrong. It is reassuring to know that the federal agency responsible for ensuring MDNR does not discriminate against low income and minority communities in its environmental programs agrees with our position,” said Bob Menees, Staff Attorney with Great Rivers.

EPA’s preliminary findings set forth a lengthy list of significant steps that MDNR must take to come into compliance with nondiscrimination laws and regulations. When implemented, these procedures will benefit all Missourians.

“We are hopeful that our efforts will result in MDNR being required to establish a robust nondiscrimination program that better protects Missouri’s low-income and minority communities from environmental racism and will set the stage for achieving environmental justice within the state,” said Sarah Rubenstein, Staff Attorney with Great Rivers.

MDNR has 50 days to respond formally to EPA’s preliminary findings. Unless MDNR reverses course and agrees to participate in alternative dispute resolution or informal resolution, EPA will continue its investigation into whether MDNR’s air permitting program is discriminatory and causes a disparate impact on Missouri’s minority and low-income communities.

According to Reverend Elston K. McCowan, 1st Vice President & Environmental Justice Committee Chair of the NAACP St. Louis City Branch, “MDNR has a policy and procedure that ensures public input is kept to a minimum. We believe that these practices are discriminatory against minority participation in the process. We have an absolute right to have a seat at the table, especially when it comes to the environment.”

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.


Water Protection Groups File Notice to Sue Ameren over Toxic Coal Ash Pollution Violations

Pictured: Ameren’s Sioux Power Station at the confluence between the Mississippi and the Missouri Rivers during a flooding event on June 3, 2019. Photo by D. Hoeferlin.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center today announced that they have served Ameren Corporation, Missouri’s largest electric utility company, with a notice of intent to sue the company to stop significant and ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act due to continuing unpermitted discharges of toxic coal ash pollutants from the company’s Sioux Energy Center in St. Charles County outside of St. Louis.


Coal ash, a by-product of burning coal, contains multiple contaminants known to be associated with long-term human health and ecological risks, including mercury, boron, sulfate, cadmium, molybdenum, lead, and arsenic.

The groups allege that Ameren is storing over 3 million tons of coal ash in a massive unlined disposal pit on the banks of the Mississippi River, one of its backwater chutes, and Poeling Lake, within the floodplain.

According to Ameren’s own records for the Sioux Energy facility, the disposal pit is discharging toxic coal ash pollutants into the shallow groundwater beneath the site and, ultimately, into the adjacent surface waters, including the Mississippi River.  

“There could not be a worse place to leave this waste forever and allow the pollution to be released into the Mississippi River for decades to come. Fortunately, we believe the Supreme Court’s decision in County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund confirms that the Clean Water Act controls discharges through groundwater into protected surface waters like the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Ameren cannot continue to discharge toxic coal ash pollution to these rivers in violation of the Clean Water Act and must take action to remove the waste and clean up the pollution at the site.” 
– Bob Menees, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Staff Attorney

The decision to move forward with the notice comes after years of urging the utility to take voluntary action to address the human health and environmental hazards at Sioux Energy by cleaning up the leaking coal ash disposal pit and managing the waste outside the floodplain to prevent illegal pollution discharges.

Ameren declined to do so—opting instead to permanently dispose of the toxic waste in the illegally discharging, unlined pit that sits in the floodplain between two of our nation’s greatest river systems—the Mississippi River and Missouri River. 

“It is well known that unlined coal ash disposal pits release toxic pollutants into groundwater and connected waterways,” said Kelly Hunter Foster of Waterkeeper Alliance. “It is also well known that coal ash is toxic and can cause significant harm to plants, wildlife, and human health—including cancer, heart disease, and lasting brain damage in children. It is dangerous to dump coal ash in a pit and allow it to be discharged into our waters.”

The organizations say that Ameren attempted to justify its decision to leave coal ash buried in such dangerous conditions by providing severely inflated cost estimates for removing the waste that are significantly higher than costs for similar cleanups at other sites in the U.S. In the twelve months ending September 30, 2020, Ameren reported gross profits of $4.519 billion

You can read the filed notice here.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Evergy Withdraws Proposal to Charge Missouri Customers for Electricity They Did Not Use

A couple struggles with their bills

For all its devastation, the pandemic had at least one silver lining: customers across the state reduced their carbon footprints.

Unfortunately, the reduced demand (and revenue) didn’t sit well with Evergy, one of Missouri’s largest electric utilities. The utility petitioned their regulating authority to charge customers for that lost revenue – to pay for what they did not use.

Missourians are struggling to stay afloat during this pandemic. The last thing they need is to be asked to bail out shareholders.

Great Rivers attorneys Bruce Morrison, Sarah Rubenstein and Henry Robertson represented the Sierra Club in advocating before state regulators against Evergy’s plan to prioritize profits ahead of people. 

Today we are pleased to announce that Evergy has dropped their plan, resulting in savings for up to 1.6 million customers.  

Read the press release from Sierra Club here.

Read the Public Service Commission’s order here.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Great Rivers Files Title VI Complaint Against Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has filed a Title VI Complaint on behalf of Dutchtown South Community Corporation (“DSCC”) and the St. Louis Branch of the NAACP (“NAACP”) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (“MDNR”), to oppose the MDNR’s recent decision to issue a Clean Air Act operating permit to Kinder Morgan Transmix Company.

What is MDNR?

The MDNR is a state environmental agency charged with the protection of Missouri’s air, land, water and mineral resources, preserving unique natural and historic places, providing recreational and learning opportunities, while promoting the environmentally sound and energy-efficient operations of businesses, communities, agriculture, and industry for the benefit of all Missourians. MDNR receives much of its funding from the EPA.

What is Title VI?

Title VI is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It precludes discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in connection with any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. In the environmental context, Title VI mandates that a state agency accepting EPA funding may not issue a permit to a polluting facility in a way that results in a discriminatory effect on predominantly minority or low-income communities. A discriminatory effect results when an agency’s decisions cause a predominantly minority or low-income community to shoulder significantly more environmental impact or pollution than other communities. Further, Title VI requires that the agencies funded by the EPA allow impacted communities substantial involvement in agency decision-making processes, particularly through permitting efforts.

Who is Kinder Morgan?

Kinder Morgan, one of America’s largest energy infrastructure companies, was co-founded by two former Enron Corporation executives over 20 years ago. In 1997, Richard Kinder, who had just resigned after six years in his roles as president and chief operating officer of Enron, teamed up with another former Enron executive, Bill Morgan, to buy Enron Liquids Pipeline Company from Enron for $40 million. Soon after, they renamed the company Kinder Morgan. Today, the company is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and is valued at just under 32 billion dollars. Forbes magazine lists Kinder, who stepped down as CEO in 2015 but remains its executive chairman, as the 67th richest American with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion.

In St. Louis, Kinder Morgan operates a 16.5 acre bulk transport loading facility for gasoline and other fuel oil products. At this facility, the company receives and stores fuel on site, and loads fuels into tanks and onto transport vehicles. The facility is located just south and east of First and Barton Streets, within close proximity of the Dutchtown, Marine Villa, Mt. Pleasant and Gravois Park neighborhoods.

What are the potential health impacts from Kinder Morgan?

Kinder Morgan’s operations at its South St. Louis facility result in emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), particulate matter less than ten microns in diameter (PM10), sulfur oxides (SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and carbon monoxide (CO). Exposure to these compounds can cause a variety of negative health effects including cancer, heart disease, asthma, lung disease, adverse birth outcomes, and diabetes. In addition, the facility has the potential to catastrophically harm nearby residents in the event of an accidental release of the highly volatile compounds, large quantities of which are stored at the facility. Further, the facility subjects nearby residents to increased risk of fire and explosion that could be caused by ignition of flammable vapors or gases from the materials stored at the plant.

How has MDNR violated Title VI?

In issuing the Kinder Morgan permit, the MDNR blatantly failed to comply with Title VI in two ways.

First, the MDNR’s decision to permit the Kinder Morgan facility has resulted in a disparate discriminatory impact on minority communities that already are disproportionately affected by multiple sources of air pollution. It is indisputable that Kinder Morgan is located adjacent to several predominantly minority, low-income neighborhoods. It is also indisputable that the Dutchtown neighborhoods are heavily impacted by industrial air pollution, as well as by air pollution caused by traffic, demolition, and other sources of air pollution. As a result, the MDNR’s decision to permit the Kinder Morgan facility has contributed to a discriminatory and disparate impact on the Dutchtown neighborhoods.

Second, MDNR has violated Title VI by failing to ensure any meaningful public involvement in its decision to grant an air pollution permit to Kinder Morgan. In fact, MDNR has failed to adopt any kind of Title VI program, as it is clearly required to do by the statute.

Our Title VI Complaint asks the EPA to address both of these issues.

You can read the Complaint here.

Thank you to NPR for their coverage of this complaint! You can read more at:

Great Rivers Doubles Down in Fight Against Maryland Heights Floodplain Development

“When you’re hiking in the wetlands, do you really want to be walking through a giant, light-industrial, manufacturing, commercial complex with giant buildings?” asks Bob Menees, a lawyer at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

It’s a future scenario Great Rivers has been fighting since early this year as we work to protect nearly 2,500 acres of Missouri River floodplain from development. The mostly undeveloped land and farmland sits adjacent to Creve Coeur Lake Park, abutting wetlands considered by the National Audubon Society to be an “urban oasis” for many migrating waders, waterfowl, and shorebirds, and the bird watchers who come to see them.

Missouri Wetlands

Creve Coeur Lake provides excellent habitat for wading birds like the Great Egret and other Herons during their spring migration when mudflats are exposed.

Good progress has been made to protect this ecologically rich area, but the fight goes on. Earlier this year, Bob Menees and fellow Great Rivers’ attorney Sarah Rubenstein helped stop the creation of a TIF district that would have had taxpayers subsidizing the development to the tune of $151 million dollars. The victory was significant for those who do not want to see their tax dollars go to this environmentally destructive and economically short-sighted idea. Unfortunately, the setback did not deter the developer from continuing their pursuit of the area, who in response to the loss of this taxpayer financing simply modified its proposal and continued to push it forward (a revealing move, considering the TIF’s supporters’ urgent earlier insistence that tax abatement handouts were necessary for private development of the area).

This October, Bob Menees further championed the area through helping to successfully curtail the developer’s plan to extend their construction’s footprint into Creve Coeur Park. The overreach into the park would have been blatantly illegal, since the developer had not first secured the approval of the public through a countywide vote.

It seems the dollar signs in the developer’s eyes are so tantalizing that despite both these defeats and the condemnation of environmental groups and the public alike it continues to try to push this foolish plan forward. As the battle rages on, Great Rivers will continue to mount the most vigorous possible legal defense against the destruction of this special place.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit Missouri-based public interest law firm that works to protect the environment and public health, and empower ordinary citizens to stand up for their environmental interests. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Selected to Best Law Firms in America 2021

Best Lawyers®, the oldest and most highly respected peer review guide to excellence in the legal profession, has named Great Rivers Environmental Law Center to its 2021 edition of The Best Law Firms in America in the practice area of Environmental Litigation.

For over seventeen years, Great Rivers has served the state of Missouri and beyond, providing free and reduced-fee legal services to individuals, organizations, and citizen groups who are working to protect the environment and public health. We work through the courts and administrative agencies to safeguard the environment by enforcing environmental laws, especially air and water pollution laws, and laws intended to protect wetlands, floodplains, open space, and endangered species. The issues which we address often have national significance, although the majority of our work is within Missouri and Illinois. Great Rivers is Missouri’s first and only public interest law firm focused on the environment and public health. We work across Missouri and Southern Illinois to preserve what matters most.

Helpful Election Resources as we Near November 3

The Federal and Missouri general elections are coming up in just a few short weeks on Tuesday, November 3. Stay up to date, get prepared, and know your resources for what’s on the ballot and how to protect yours and others voting rights at the polls. Here are some of the resources our team at Great Rivers is using this election season:

Missouri Voter Protection Hotline: (866) 687-8683

*Will also be answering calls live on election day, also serving Illinois

National Voter Protection Hotline: (833) 336-8693

For detailed information about what’s on the ballot:

Great Rivers Joins Petition Opposing Weakening of Endangered Species Act Guidelines

A monarch butterfly lands on Echinacea

October 8, 2020

A petition urging the preservation of important habitat designation rules was submitted this Friday to the U.S. Department of the Interior by a coalition of environment and conservation groups across the country. The letter read as follows:

“Dear Secretary Bernhardt:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters nationwide, we urge you to withdraw the two recent proposed rules related to habitat designation under the Endangered Species Act. Protection of habitat is central to the conservation of imperiled species. The ESA’s purpose is to conserve, “the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend,” as well as protect and recover endangered species and threatened species themselves. Designation of critical habitat is a key tool authorized by the ESA to ensure habitat, including unoccupied habitat needed for recovery, is conserved. Weakening agencies’ authority to protect such habitat would be a severe blow to the efficacy of the Act and its ability to spare species from extinction.
On August 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed two definitions of the word “habitat.” Both options would limit rather than enhance the Services’ ability to conserve species that may require habitat restoration or that may find their historic range shifting as a result of climate change. The options presented in this rule are unclear and potentially limiting at best, and explicitly restrictive at worst.

“On September 4, 2020, the USFWS proposed new regulations that would expand the agency’s ability to exclude areas essential to the conservation of threatened and endangered species from designation as critical habitat under the ESA. Among other problematic provisions, it states that the USFWS must exclude areas when the costs of designating them outweigh the benefits (except in cases where extinction will result). This is more restrictive than the ESA itself, which states the agency “may” exclude such areas. The proposal also reverses a longstanding presumption against excluding areas based upon economic considerations on public lands. These changes would grant economic considerations outsized weight in decisions about habitat that should prioritize species’ recovery needs and be driven by the best available science.

Research shows that critical habitat designations do not affect all private development. In fact, the ESA restricts only federal actions destroying or adversely modifying critical habitat; private activities that do not require federal permits are unaffected, and those requiring federal permits can generally proceed with minor, but essential, modifications to protect imperiled species.

Properly implemented, critical habitat designations advance the ESA’s recovery goals by striking a science-driven balance between conservation and economic activity.

[T]his is a moment when—more than ever—we need strong and effective conservation laws. One million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, due to human activity, according to a devastating May 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report warns that the health of ecosystems upon which humans and all other species depend is deteriorating globally at unprecedented rates, with grave implications for our economies, livelihoods, food security, health, and quality of life worldwide.

Protecting our natural heritage—including threatened and endangered species—is a core American value. We urge you to help save our most imperiled plants and animals from extinction by strongly and fully implementing the ESA and by withdrawing these two proposed rules.”

You can see the petition and its signatory parties here.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit Missouri-based public interest law firm that works to protect the environment and public health, and empower ordinary citizens to stand up for their environmental interests. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.

A Tribute to Wayne Goode

“A great ‘white hat’ legislator his entire career.”

“A wonderful, generous, conscientious public citizen.”

“He always fought for justice.

“We have lost a hero and a friend.”

These were just a few of the messages which flooded my mailbox after Wayne Goode passed away a few days ago.

Wayne dedicated much of his life to serving Missouri’s people, first in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate. He sponsored the state’s first hazardous waste law in 1977. He sponsored legislation for groundwater protection, drinking water standards, and cleaning up waste disposal sites.  He was a champion for Missouri’s environment.

At Great Rivers Wayne served on our Board of Directors for many years.  He guided our way, always generous with his time, always sharing his sound judgment and wisdom.  I know that Wayne lived a full life.  I know that Wayne possessed the wisdom of someone who had lived two full lives.

Our hearts are heavy today.  We have lost a guiding light and a dear friend. 

Bruce Morrison
President, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center