Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers’ Incoming President Bruce Morrison Named to Best Lawyers in America 2020

Bruce Morrison

August 16, 2019

Best Lawyers®, the oldest and most highly respected peer review guide to excellence in the legal profession, has named Bruce A. Morrison to its 2020 edition of The Best Lawyers in America in the practice area of Environmental Litigation.

Mr. Morrison has served the people of Missouri through his work at Great Rivers since its founding in 2002. He currently serves as General Counsel and will assume leadership of the center in September. His work has included issues affecting water quality, air pollution, floodplains and wetlands preservation, the protection of parks and open space, and environmental justice.

“Bruce’s passionate and competent protection of Missouri’s environment and the health of our citizens is unwavering. He is an icon among environmental attorneys in our country”.

– Steve Mahfood, Great Rivers’ Board of Directors

Since it was first published in 1983, Best Lawyers has become universally regarded as the definitive guide to legal excellence. Best Lawyers lists are compiled based on an exhaustive peer-review evaluation. Almost 87,000 leading lawyers globally are eligible to vote, and Best Lawyers received almost 10 million evaluations on the legal abilities of other lawyers based on their specific practice areas around the world. Lawyers are not required or allowed to pay a fee to be listed; therefore inclusion in Best Lawyers is considered a singular honor. Corporate Counsel magazine has called Best Lawyers, “the most respected referral list of attorneys in practice.”

Great Rivers Will Proudly Present the 2019 Lewis C. Green Environmental Service Award to Kathleen Henry

On Sunday, September 22, 2019, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center will present its Lewis C. Green Environmental Service Award to Kathleen Henry, environmental attorney and departing President of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

Ms. Henry will be recognized for her long-term commitment to providing legal aid to those seeking to preserve and protect the environment and public health.

Great Rivers presents this award annually to individuals or groups that have shown outstanding and extended commitment to the preservation of the environment and public health.

Great Rivers will honor Ms. Henry at a party at the Whittemore House on the campus of Washington University. Guests can enjoy a drink in the gazebo, music from a live string quartet, heavy appetizers- and, most importantly, the chance to thank Ms. Henry for her years of dedicated service. The event is open to the public; general admission tickets are $125 (Young Friends tickets available for $50!) and may be purchased here or by calling Great Rivers at 314-231-4181.

The award is named after the founder of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, the late Lewis C. Green, a leading environmental litigator in Missouri for many decades.

Great Rivers Works to Help Fight Fracking in Illinois; Court Orders Records to be Made Public

A sustainable future which fulfills our needs for energy, employment, and habitation demands that we develop non-polluting technologies which do not threaten our soil, air or water. For this reason, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing our Environment (SAFE) established itself with the sole mission of banning fracking in Southern Illinois. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is a method of oil and natural gas extraction that involves injecting fluid into subterranean rock formations at high pressure.

In 2014, SAFE filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), seeking a declaratory judgement that would find fracking unconstitutional in Illinois. The Constitution of Illinois has a provision that states that all citizens have “the right to a healthful environment.” The members of SAFE believe that horizontal fracking is a direct violation of this provision because of its destructive effects on the groundwater and citizen’s access to clean water.   

This summer, the attorneys representing SAFE reached out to Great Rivers Environmental Law Center for additional assistance on this case. Most recently the IDNR has filed a Motion for Protective Order, which would unnecessarily restrict the use of important documents. The judge promptly entered the Protective Order before SAFE’s attorneys had a chance to respond. Great Rivers’ Legal Intern, Jackson Ramsey, helped write a response to this motion demanding that the documents not be protected, as much of the information was already a part of the public record. Jackson also helped write a Motion to Vacate the Protective Order which was entered without an opportunity for SAFE to respond. On July 18, 2019, the attorneys for SAFE presented these arguments to the Judge and he ultimately ruled in their favor. Instead of allowing all the documents in the case to be blanketed by a protective order, he agreed that any information which was clearly part of the public record could be discovered. Furthermore, he put the burden on the IDNR to specify individual documents which it believed were confidential for the judge to rule on separately at a later date. This was a victory for SAFE as it will allow them to freely and openly use around 99% of the discovery documents to develop their case against the INDR. While a declaration that fracking in Illinois is unconstitutional is still far afield, the win on Thursday puts SAFE one step closer to securing cleaner energy in Illinois.

Jackson Ramsey is a second-year law student at St. Louis University School of Law. He studied Vocal Performance in undergrad at Loyola University New Orleans and lived as a musician for five years before law school. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, gardening, and rehabbing his house.

Water Quality Program Sees Victory! Great Rivers Confronts a Chronic Polluter of the Meramec River

River recreationists and wildlife shouldn’t be swimming in E coli, oil, grease and chlorine. That’s why when Great Rivers was approached by our client, the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, with concerns that a Valley Park Motomart gas station was discharging these pollutants into the Meramec River, we took the case.

The gas station’s own records showed that they were continuously discharging these substances at rates in violation of federal and state Clean Water Act laws for the last five years. And they weren’t small violations. Sampling done by the facility showed levels of E. coli at 24,200 colonies/100 ML of water, which is 192 times higher than allowed in its permit (126 colonies/100 ML of water). Worse still, these discharges were being made into the Meramec in an area frequently used by river recreationists.

“These discharges presented a direct and substantial threat to the water quality of the Meramec River,” shared Bob Menees, lead
attorney on the case
, “especially in light of the Meramec River’s status as an impaired water.”

On April 3, 2019, Great Rivers filed a formal notification that we intended to sue within 60 days if they did not remedy the violations. In response to our Notice of Intent, MotoMart took significant steps to address the pollution problems at its station. Recent sampling has shown that levels of E. coli that are now well within permitted levels. We are pleased to report these measurable results as we fight to protect the cleanliness and health of our shared waters.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center President Announces 2019 Resignation; Longtime General Counsel to Take the Helm

Kathleen Henry, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center’s leader since 2004, announced today that she will resign from serving as President in September 2019 and join Great Rivers’ Board of Directors. She will pass the reins to Great Rivers’ longtime General Counsel, Bruce Morrison. Morrison and Henry assisted Lewis Green with founding Great Rivers in 2002 and have both served with Great Rivers for its entire seventeen years.

Under Henry’s leadership, Great Rivers expanded its work in Environmental Justice, Climate Change, Clean Air and Energy, Protection of Parks and Open Space, and Preservation of Floodplains and Wetlands. The organization’s impact is visible across the Region today. Great Rivers’ successes include saving beloved parks from development, stopping polluting plants from being built, and ensuring that citizens from all economic backgrounds have equal access to wind and solar.

In September, Ms. Henry will relocate to Madison, Wisconsin, her husband’s hometown.

“It has been an honor to serve as President of Great Rivers. I have been privileged to work for our clients, who show such tenacity in fighting uphill battles. Our donors sustain the organization and humble me with their support. It will continue to be an honor to be a part of the dedicated Board of Directors who ensure that Lewis Green’s legacy remains a lasting force.”

A long-time St. Louis native with an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and a law degree from Washington University, Bruce Morrison was Lewis Green’s partner when Green founded Great Rivers in 2002. His accomplishments include saving parks and wilderness areas and preserving wetlands and floodplains. “I look forward to serving as President,” said Morrison. “Great Rivers will carry on its vital work of providing free legal services to our neighbors in Missouri and Illinois seeking to preserve and protect the environment and public health.”

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.

 

Supreme Court Declines to Adopt Great Rivers’ Argument Urging 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 represented 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 Jefferson City News Tribune covered the Supreme Court’s opinion.

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