Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers Urges Ameren to Prioritize Citizens’ Health and Remove Coal Ash instead of Capping It

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.

Great Rivers Welcomes Back Linden Mueller!

Great Rivers is pleased to share that Linden Mueller is returning to the role of our Director of Development and Community Outreach. Linden first came to us in a volunteer capacity in 2016, where she quickly demonstrated her heart and energy for raising support for the work of Great Rivers. The development role was open, and it was a great fit. We brought her onto the team. At the time, she was slated to embark on a series of travels: to visit a reforestation project in India, hike the Himalayas in Nepal, volunteer at a sustainable living retreat in Belize and to study for her MBA in Germany. She was only able to accept the role in an interim position. When the permanent position opened again this May, we were pleased to welcome her back to the team in a permanent capacity.

Linden shares, “There is so much peace, health and renewal to be found in our beautiful natural environment, and I’m elated to work with Great Rivers to protect those benefits for ourselves and for future generations. In my role I will be working to bring Great Rivers to the people: to make us accessible to every individual who can use our services and to seek support so that we can provide those services for many years to come.” She addressed our donors: “We are here only for and because of you, and I am so honored to have the chance in this role to get to know you. Thank you for the chance to serve you in this capacity. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.”  

In the past, Linden has worked with Earthday365’s Recycling on the Go program, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery, and the Missouri Fund for the Public Interest.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Appeals Trial Court Ruling to Missouri Supreme Court Over Legislature’s 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 a Notice of Appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court on May 21, 2019, 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 trial court rules against the plaintiffs earlier.

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 plaintiffs are now asking the Missouri Supreme Court to declare SB 35 unconstitutional and void.


Great Rivers Urges Missouri Supreme Court to Follow Statute Allowing Citizens Right to Sue over Unconstitutional Laws

Great Rivers attorney Henry Robertson argued in the Missouri Supreme Court on May 14 that citizens are entitled to sue over a law the legislature passes illegally, during the entire period after a bill becomes effective until the adjournment of the next full regular legislative session, under Section 516.500 of the Missouri statutes. Great Rivers represents the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and an individual in their challenge to House Bill 1713, which the plaintiffs argue violates the Missouri Constitution requiring bills to contain only one subject. H. B. 1713 tacked onto a Drinking Water Statute a section changing the make-up of the Clean Water Commission, the governmental agency that regulates Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations among other things, and allowed the Clean Water Commission to have six of seven members represent industry. Before, only two could represent industry. The plaintiffs believe this changed make-up will lead to less protection of the state’s rivers and streams. The St. Louis Post Dispatch and Missouri Lawyers Weekly covered this argument.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Current River

Developer Drops Fight for Silica Sand Mine!

On Friday, May 17, 2019, citizens in Jefferson County received good news. The developer had stopped his fight to build the silica sand mine, and dropped his lawsuit against the County for monetary compensation for being denied the permit to build the sand mine. This area of Hillsboro will be allowed to provide the habitat and ecological benefits that it has been providing for many years, and hopefully will continue to provide for future generations.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Jefferson County Beauty.jpg


Citizens in Jefferson County Get a Voice in Court

A group of citizens in Hillsboro, MO, has been working hard to preserve the air and water quality near their homes since 2018, when they learned a developer planned to build a silica sand mine in an agricultural and residential area in Hillsboro. The silica sand would be used for fracking, which is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

Great Rivers assisted the citizens with their opposition to the proposal in the Planning and Zoning and County Commission boards, both of which voted to deny the proposal. The County had denied the application for many reasons, including that the proposed mine would destroy the tranquility and quality of life for residents in the neighborhood, the mine would cause an increase in traffic, noise, dust, health hazards and stormwater runoff to the surrounding residential area, and the mine would cause increases in noise, water and air pollution.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Excavation Equipment

However, the developer then sued Jefferson County, asking the Court to reverse the County Commission’s decision and seeking monetary compensation for not being allowed to mine the land. The developer later dropped the first count, agreeing not to build the sand mine in that location. Jefferson County now is working to convince the Court to dismiss the remaining count seeking monetary compensation.

On behalf of the citizens, Great Rivers requested permission to file a Friend of the Court (“Amicus”) Brief in the trial court and on April 5, 2019, the court allowed the citizens to do that. This means that although these citizens do not have a legal claim to be directly involved in the lawsuit, their voice can be heard in Court.

“Jefferson County stood up for the health of its citizens,” said Kathleen Henry, attorney at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “The Planning and Zoning Commission and County Council had dozens of valid reasons for denying a permit to build a silica mine in a residential area and the County should not have to pay developers after denying permits for good reason.”

The County’s motion to dismiss is set for hearing May 17, 2019, in the Jefferson County Circuit Court.

#GiveSTLDay Event a Lot of Fun!

May 1st, 2019 is #GiveSTLDay – the most generous day of the year in St. Louis, Missouri! Even before noon, the region had already raised more than 1 million dollars – a new record of generosity.

Great Rivers was fortunate to be invited to a press event at the St. Louis Community Foundation with KSDK St. Louis. #GiveSTLDay was a featured story on Show Me St. Louis! Director of Development Sarah Willey and volunteer Rachel Harris represented us well.


See video from the event:

Our own live video from the event:

Live video with blogger Chris Strub, the #GivingDayGuy, from the St. Louis Community Foundation:

(We will update later with video from Show Me St. Louis / KSDK when a link is available!)

Great Rivers to Present Hazardous Waste Report to NAACP Environmental Justice Committee

On April 26, 2019, General Counsel Bruce Morrison will present a recently completed report detailing the impact of hazardous waste sites on minority and low-income communities in Missouri. This report, prepared by undergraduate intern Chalaun Lomax, is the result of several months of analysis using EPA mapping tools in conjunction with the Department of Natural Resources’ Annual Registry Report. The DNR report lists all hazardous waste sites across the state of Missouri, ranging from Class 1 – sites causing or presenting imminent danger – to Class 4 sites, which are properly closed.

The purpose of this report (which can be viewed here) is to encourage local NAACP branches to prioritize environmental justice issues. Great Rivers hopes to achieve this by presenting a widespread, tangible issue that is impacting the everyday lives of disadvantaged Missourians.

First, Great Rivers identified hazardous waste sites using the DNR Annual Registry Report mentioned earlier. The report contains confirmed abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste disposal sites in Missouri. The sites we chose are in 4 major counties in Missouri which have NAACP branches: St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jefferson County, and St. Charles County.

Then, Great Rivers used EJSCREEN – an EPA mapping tool – to set a 1.86-mile radius around each site and analyze the demographic indicators for the population within this radius. The EPA index includes various indicators, including the population size, the percentage of minority and low-income individuals, and the percentage with less than a high school education.

A 1.86-mile radius was used in accordance with the 2007 landmark report “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty,” which found that more than half of the people who live within 1.86 miles of toxic waste facilities in the United States are people of color. This statistic held true for many of the sites examined in this report.

The report reveals that thousands of Missourians are at a heightened risk of health issues as a result of their proximity to these hazardous waste sites that require continued management. Great Rivers hopes that further action will be taken by the NAACP Committee after reading this report.

Great Rivers and the Missouri NAACP Opposed EPA’s Plan to Roll Back Hazardous Emissions from Coal

Regulation of hazardous air pollutants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act protects individuals, families and communities, especially those of color, from unnecessary premature deaths, asthma attacks, cancer, neurological deficits and heart attacks.  With 68% of African Americans living within 30 miles of a coal plant and low income communities more likely to be host to a coal plant, these vulnerable Americans bear a greater brunt of hazardous coal plant emissions.  In 2016 EPA concluded regulation of these hazardous emissions is “appropriate and necessary.”  EPA now proposes to reverse course.

Great Rivers volunteer Lauren Lageson submitted comments on April 17, 2019 on behalf of the Missouri NAACP urging the EPA to stand by its previous determinations to regulate harmful air pollution.

The Missouri NAACP views the proposed changes as a threat to the rights and the wellbeing of people of color and low income communities, who stand to be disproportionately affected by the changes.[1]   EPA’s devaluation of co-benefits in its analysis threatens the quality of life and the health of our most vulnerable citizens, including children, the elderly and the economically-disadvantaged. Excluding the health and well-being of these communities from consideration in a cost analysis, while giving undo weight to industry cost, is unconscionable.

You can read the full comments here.


Great Rivers Submits Comments On Bridgeton Landfill

Great Rivers and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment submitted comments on Bridgeton Landfill’s air pollution permit to the Department of Natural Resources.  Bridgeton Landfill has been the source of significant air pollution issues over the last several years due to the underground fire at the site.  The landfill has been the source of odor violations, significant releases of sulfur dioxide, and above-ground fires that have released harmful air pollutants into the ambient air.  The comments seek to ensure that Bridgeton Landfill’s operations comply with air pollution requirements as much as possible.

Full comments available here.