Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Protection Won for Missouri Youth

It’s a shocking statistic: nearly 80% of Missouri children have detectable levels of lead in their blood. Elevated levels can cause irreversible harm to chidlren’s mental and physical development, and economically disadvantaged and minority children are most likely to suffer from elevated levels.

In 2020, when Madeline Semanisin (formerly Middlebrooks) joined Great Rivers as an Equal Justice Works fellow, most schools in Missouri were not required to test their water for lead, and even fewer were required to remediate high lead levels. 

Madeline dedicated her efforts to addressing the disparity in elevated blood lead levels and to protect all children from the risks of exposure. In 2020, she researched state policies and met with stakeholders from all backgrounds. 2021 found her forming the Missouri Filter First Community Coalition with groups across the state. In the 2022 legislative session, she devoted countless hours to leading the coalition, researching policy, creating educational packets, drafting legislation, meeting with legislators, and testifying in front of legislative committees.   

With the passage of the GET LEAD OUT OF DRINKING WATER ACT on July 1, 2022, Madeline’s work bore tremendous fruit. The bill requires any public school, private school, or provider of an early childhood education program that receives state funding to test for lead in their institution’s drinking water fixtures and to install filters to remediate those sources that are compromised.   

The bill’s passing is a monumental victory for children’s health across the state.  

Great Rivers is grateful to Madeline for her work, to Faber Daefur & Itrato for their sponsorship of her fellowship, and to the countless community partners who helped to make this progress possible. 

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.

Earth Day Visitors Share Motivations to Protect the Environment

Thanks to the help of many wonderful volunteers, Great Rivers was represented at community events in St. Louis, Columbia, and Springfield Missouri on Earth Day 2022.
Volunteers shared inormation about Great Rivers’ work with interested visitors to our tables. We are grateful to all who helped. Pictured are our wonderful intern Nicole Switalski and young professional board member Rebekah Helmich.
Volunteers welcomed young visitors to our table to take our nature quiz. Youth who participated were awarded a “Great Rivers Ranger” button to take home. Pictured are super intern Sirapan To-in and board member Dhruv Mitroo.
Visitors of all ages shared why protecting the Earth matters to them. From centering human rights to leaving a better world for generations to come, the reasons people gave were unique – and powerful.
“It is a fundamental human rights issue.” – Madelyn Yoo
“We swim in the river” – Avery Ann Stuertz
“Her”- Colin Dowling and Daughter
“I want a future for my children.” – Michael Berg
“I value biodiversity and the wildlife that enriches my day!” – Ed Bayham
“I’m saving the earth for my grandchildren!! – Marsha Caradine
“It won’t be around forever – my kids would like to enjoy it.” – John and Evelyn Rehg
“I like to live!”
“We are all interconnected – environmental health equals human health! – Katie Iffrig
“It holds life” – Colton
“It keeps us alive” – Kolton
“My children and grandchildren need a place to live!!” – Patricia “Pat” Wolff
“When I get old, the water will be clean.” – Mike Wolff
We greatly enjoyed seeing new and long-time friends on Earth Day. Great Rivers is here for the people and only because of the people of our Region.


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.

Concerned Groups Move to Block Coal Mine Pollution From Being Dumped Into Big Muddy River

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Tuesday, May 10, 2022 
Press Contacts

SPRINGFIELD, IL. — Today, Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network announced they are appealing the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA)’s decision to grant a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to Williamson Energy LLC, the owner of the Pond Creek coal mine.

The NPDES permit, which was granted by the IEPA on April 15, does not remedy major flaws in the 2019 draft permit, does not protect the environment, and does not adhere to Illinois or federal law. In the appeal, Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network, who are represented by Albert Ettinger and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, ask the Illinois Pollution Control Board to order the IEPA to reconsider the permit in order to establish conditions necessary to protect the Big Muddy River and other Illinois waters. 

The IEPA granted this new NPDES permit to Williamson Energy LLC, which is a subsidiary of companies that emerged from the Murray Energy bankruptcy, despite the company’s long history of permit violations. In the newly granted permit, the IEPA declined to even consider placing a proper limit on chloride releases from the Pond Creek coal mine, despite the harmful impact excess chloride can have on wildlife in the river, and allows level of iron, sulfate and other pollutants that will harm the environment and potentially public health.  

“Despite making some improvements to the original draft permit, the NPDES permit issued by the IEPA still falls short of the critical protection we need for the Big Muddy River and its tributaries.The contaminants allowed in this permit are harmful to aquatic life, and overall the permit fails to adequately mitigate the impacts this dirty mine water will have on local waters, wildlife, and communities. The IEPA must at the very least strengthen the permit’s conditions.” 

-Amanda Pankau, Energy Campaign Coordinator with plaintiff Prairie Rivers Network

The permit decision also fails to consider the impact to the community at large, despite requirements in Illinois state law that these potential impacts be considered. Critically, the permit utterly fails to consider that the coal produced from the mine will contribute to disastrous climate change. Mining and burning coal pursuant to the NPDES permit will be destructive to the environment and increase emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gasses. The permit fails to consider the many side effects of mining practices as well, including land subsidence, coal dust, noise, and the loss of property values. Allowing coal plants like the Pond Creek coal mine to proceed with the status quo is contrary to Illinois’ clean energy and climate goals.

“Coal mining is a dirty, dangerous, and increasingly outdated practice. For a century, Illinois has sacrificed water quality, farmland, and communities to allow coal mining, but it’s time to turn to a better future. We’re acting today to protect these communities now and for future generations. Illinois is now leading the way to a clean energy future, and it’s time to hold polluting coal mines accountable for what they have done to our communities and say enough is enough.”

Jack Darin, Director of plaintiff Sierra Club Illinois

Local community members and environmental advocates explicitly brought these concerns to the IEPA’s attention as early as 2019, when local residents and advocates with Sierra Club Illinois and Prairie Rivers Network submitted hundreds of comments on the draft permit and raised concerns during a public hearing.

Advocates have also highlighted Williamson Energy LLC’s repeated inability to adhere to its relatively lax current permit. Since it began operation in 2005, the company is responsible for 78 water quality discharge violations at Pond Creek Mine alone.

Given the coal company’s ongoing violations, it’s clear that additional oversight and a strengthened permit are necessary in order to adequately protect Illinois waterways and the local community from further pollution and contamination.

You can read the Petition for Review here.


Press Contacts:
Sarah Rubenstein
Staff Attorney
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center
314.231.4181
srubenstein@greatriverslaw.org

Hannah Lee Flath
Communications Coordinator
Sierra Club
860.634.0225 
hannahlee.flath@sierraclub.org


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.

Meet Great Rivers’ 2022 Interns


Matthew Boyd – Outreach and Development Intern, Fall 2021 and Spring 2022

Matthew is a sophomore at Washington University in St Louis pursuing a double major in Environmental Policy and Sociology. Matthew’s passion for the environment and social justice lead him to Great Rivers where he hopes to help make a difference in his hometown and after Great Rivers he would like to do the same in more places. In his free time, Matthew primarily enjoys sports, writing and listening to music (check out the DJs at KWUR 90.3 FM!).


Rachel Deubner – Legal Intern, Summer 2022

Rachel graduated from Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2021 with a B.S. in Biological Sciences and Minors in Chemistry, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Political Science. In the fall she will be entering into her second year of law school at Saint Louis University. Before law school she spent her summers working at the Saint Louis Zoo which lead an appreciation of the environment and a desire to pursue a career in environmental law. In her free time she enjoys going for hikes and taking care of her many house plants. 


Tori Harwell – Goldman Fellow, Summer 2022

Tori is a junior at Washington University in St Louis pursuing a double major in Environmental Studies, and African and African American Studies. Tori is devoted to serving their community. She previously worked at Denver Public Health as a youth violence prevention advocate and Kilmer Lane and Newman Firm as an intern focusing on criminal justice reform. They cannot wait to continue this work from an environmental justice lens. In her free time, Tori likes to hike, garden, travel all around the world, and go to farmers’ markets where they are always searching for mismatching pottery bowls.


Molly Hopkins – Legal Intern, Summer 2022

Molly is a rising 3L at American University Washington College of Law.  She is originally from Milwaukee, WI and got her BA in French and Francophone Studies from Lawrence University.  Before law school, Molly worked various jobs ranging from a nanny, to a bank teller, to an equine veterinary assistant.  She hopes to continue in the public interest and environmental law fields after graduating from law school.  In her free time, Molly enjoys swimming, sewing, admiring her houseplants, hanging out with her bunnies and her horse, and spending time outdoors.


Emily Komie – Legal Intern, Summer 2022

Emily is a rising 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Hailing from Chicago, she graduated from Colorado College where she studied Environmental Science and Filmmaking. Emily hopes to use her law degree to advance the principles of environmental justice, particularly in connection with public health issues. In her free time, she enjoys playing tennis, hiking, and thrifting. Emily is excited to support Great Rivers’ amazing work, and learn more about environmental law in the Midwest.


Cooper Mittelhauser – Legal Intern, Summer 2022

Cooper is a Missouri native and rising 2L at the University of Oregon, where he is an ENR Fellow with the Oceans, Coasts, and Watersheds Project and Moot Court Board Member. Before law school, Cooper spent a decade working in the outdoor industry. After several seasons of work as a guide in National Parks, he left the outdoor industry to pursue a legal education. Countless boat trips and fly-fishing excursions in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains inform Cooper’s desire to use his legal education to protect natural resources and promote access to clean water. In his free time, Cooper enjoys cycling and fly-fishing, but any other outdoor activity will do—bonus points if it involves a river.


Joe Oswald – Legal Intern, Spring 2022

Joe is a second-year student at Washington University School of Law. He grew up in Wausau, Wisconsin near a lake that was only swimmable thanks to the Clean Water Act. Before law school, Joe spent six years working in education, three in southern Austria and three in Minneapolis. He hopes to use his law degree to help preserve the Midwest’s incredible water resources. In his free-time, Joe enjoys hiking, bikepacking, birding (rather unsuccessfully), and watching the Milwaukee Bucks.


Alden Standley – Outreach and Development Intern, Spring 2022

Alden is a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis where she is pursuing a B.A. in Global Health and Environment. Originally from San Francisco, California, Alden has always loved spending time outdoors – which, in recent years, has led her to be increasingly interested in environmental protection and policy. Outside of work, Alden loves playing volleyball, listening to music, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.


Sirapan To-in – Legal and Outreach and Development Intern, Fall 2021 and Spring 2022

Sirapan worked in the field of combating human trafficking and IUU in the seafood supply chain in Thailand prior to coming to the U.S. and worked at the University’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic during his study at WashULaw. When he’s not working with Great Rivers, Sirapan also works as a farm justice intern at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Sirapan enjoys creating designs, infographics, and posters for educational purposes. In his free time, Sirapan can be found going on bike rides and camping trips.


Jimmy Yuen – Legal Intern, Spring 2022

Jimmy is a 2L student at WashULaw. He grew in Las Vegas, NV where the megadrought and other environmental issues in the desert city inspired his interest in sustainability. Jimmy graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Global Studies and a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with his cats.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Files Lawsuit Against Industrial Property Owners for Hazardous Conditions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
4/7/2022
Press Contact

ST. LOUIS – The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) has filed a lawsuit involving 11 industrial properties affiliated with Shreve Automotive Plant, a long-time source of environmental concerns for the neighborhood. HPNA and the residents of Hyde Park are represented in these lawsuits by Stinson LLP, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.

The lawsuit alleges that the properties are being used in violation of the zoning code and concern buildings in disrepair, vehicles blocking sidewalk and street access and illegal dumping, and is in response to years of complaints made to the City by Hyde Park residents. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that industrial waste, toxic chemicals and other forms of improper waste disposal at these properties are in violation of both St. Louis City ordinances and Missouri environmental laws.

Photos of the nuisance properties show buildings in grave disrepair, illegal dumping of automotive debris, vehicles and debris blocking sidewalk and street access, and improper disposal of potentially toxic industrial waste.

The lawsuits against Shreve Automotive, and its affiliantes, are just the latest action the Hyde Park neighborhood has taken against several long-standing nuisance properties in the community. “Hyde Park is on the cusp of a historic comeback, and these nuisance properties are doing us no favors in attracting new residents and businesses to this community,” said Donna Lindsay, a Hyde Park resident and named plaintiff in the lawsuit. “They contribute to unlawful behavior and reduce neighboring property values.”

In March 2019, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center contacted City officials, on behalf of the Hyde Park residents, regarding resident complaints on the nuisance properties; followed by efforts to reach out to the owners of such properties, regarding an amicable remediation of the hazardous conditions.

Neither led to improvements, resulting in the filing of the lawsuit in the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court in March 2022.

“With this lawsuit, Hyde Park wants it to be known, that this community will no longer tolerate this type of conduct. If businesses want to be supportive of this community and work for its betterment – we have your back 1,000%. If you want to treat this community like your personal rubbish bin, you have another thing coming.

– Fatimah Muhammad, Chair of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and named plaintiff in the lawsuit.


About Great Rivers Environmental Law Center: Since 2002, Great Rivers has served Missouri and Southern Illinois, providing free 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. Learn more at www.greatriverslaw.org.

About Stinson LLP: Stinson LLP collaborates with clients ranging from individuals and privately held enterprises to national companies and international public corporations. Our accomplished attorneys leverage deep knowledge and experience to deliver practical guidance, helping clients minimize risks and realize opportunities. We take pride in our collaborative approach, our lasting relationships and our unique perspectives. Connect with us at one of our 12 offices nationwide and at www.stinson.com.

About Legal Services of Eastern Missouri – Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative: Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has provided free civil legal help for low-income families for 65 years. In 2020, more than 30,000 people in 21 counties of eastern Missouri received services from four regional offices. The Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative launched in 2018 to provide free legal assistance to city neighborhoods to combat
vacancy, blight, and disinvestment. For more information, please visit www.lsem.org/neighborhood-vacancy-initiative.


Press Contact:
Sarah Rubenstein, Staff Attorney
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center
Office: 314.231.4181
srubenstein@greatriverslaw.org


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.

St. Louis on the Air Features President Bruce Morrison

St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske sat down with Bruce Morrison, President of Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, and Steve Taylor, press secretary for the Global Justice Ecology Project, to discuss new federal funding designated to remediate Superfund sites in Missouri. The conversation focused on the factors the EPA considers for site selection, the impact of site remediation on Missouri residents, and the importance of environmental justice and citizen advocacy.

The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Job Acts provides new funding for remediation of EPA Superfund sites, including two sites in Missouri slated for accelerated remediation. President Bruce Morrison, along with local environmental activist Steve Taylor, were featured on St. Louis on the Air to discuss the contamination at these sites and the importance of citizen advocacy and environmental justice in toxic waste remediation. 

This past December, the EPA announced that the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated one billion dollars to address the “backlog of Superfund sites” across the United States. Superfund sites are those in which hazardous waste has been “dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed” (EPA). Following the creation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) by Congress in 1980, classification as a “Superfund site” allows the EPA to clean up these sites with federal funds or money from the corporation responsible for the contamination (EPA).

That funding “is great to have,” said Taylor, who stated that, “if you live next to [one of the sites slated for cleanup], [the funding] could be life changing” but, “if you look at the magnitude and scope of the amount of contamination in Missouri, [this funding] really isn’t much.”

Currently, there are approximately 1,300 Superfund sites across the U.S., seventy-eight of which are in Missouri and Illinois. Out of these 1,300 projects, the EPA has selected forty-nine as “accelerated sites” that it will begin work on in the coming year. Two of these accelerated sites are in Missouri: Valley Park TCE and Vienna Wells. 

Morrison addressed the contamination occurring at the sites chosen for accelerated cleanup in Missouri, in which contaminated soil has begun seeping into the groundwater.

The contamination is so pervasive in Vienna, Missouri that, according to Morrison, “people can’t drink the water without the water getting cleaned up, and the water can’t be cleaned up because the soil is contaminated.

Morrison speculated that in addition to the urgency of the groundwater issues, the low-cost and time commitment of these projects were likely critical to their selection as accelerated sites. He believes that the EPA offers a fair timeframe and budget for the project’s completion, with the Valley Park TCE site cost projected at approximately $4.5 million and the Vienna Wells site budgeted for just under $20 million.

Later in the segment, Morrison and Taylor discussed the different types of remediation efforts: residential and industrial. Residential sites are those that are cleaned up to meet the standards of residential living spaces while industrial clean-ups only raise the site to the standard for people working but not living full-time on site. Industrial sites prohibit activities such as food production and day-care centers, but do not prohibit the building of power plants, warehouses, and salvage yards (EPA). It is not uncommon for individuals working on Industrial sites to be unaware of the area’s history and the risks of potential contamination.

Morrison detailed this process of partial clean up as “leaving selective processed materials in place, covering them with two feet of clean soil, and then securing the site with fencing”. What’s more, Morrison questioned,  

“if the waste would remain in place if the community was in a place of power to demand otherwise”, arguing that when property is considered commercially valuable or located in more affluent communities, the contamination clean-up is held to a higher standard. 

Morrison and Taylor placed an emphasis on the need for a greater commitment to minority communities, throughout the segment reminding listeners of the disproportionate impact of contamination sites on minority communities. Morrison pointed out the ways in which minority communities can be left out of the discussions and planning of these efforts. Taylor recalled his childhood growing up near a contaminated river and noted the lack of scientific studies that demonstrate the connection between disease and proximity to toxic waste that he, and many others, experienced.

Morrison and Taylor wrapped up the segment emphasizing that today, “following a period at the federal level where we deregulated”, it is extremely important to develop tougher regulations at every level and to ensure they are enforced. Arguing that enforcement takes citizen action and advocacy, Morrison and Taylor encouraged victims of toxic contamination to reach out to Great Rivers Environmental Law Firm. They concluded by emphasizing that individuals must not wait for issues of toxic contamination to be addressed by city governments or utility companies, instead, individuals must organize and advocate for themselves. 

You can read more and listen to the interview at: https://news.stlpublicradio.org/show/st-louis-on-the-air/2022-01-10/as-epa-plans-2-superfund-cleanups-in-missouri-st-louis-region-grapples-with-long-legacy-of-contamination.

You can reach out and contact Great Rivers via email: greatrivers@greatriverslaw.org, via phone: 1-314-231-4181, or by following this link: https://greatriverslaw.org/contact-us/.

Ethan Thompson Joins Great Rivers

Great Rivers welcomes our newest staff attorney, Ethan Thompson, to the team. Ethan received his JD from Washington University in St. Louis and his Masters of Political Science from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.

While studying for his JD, Ethan worked at the University’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic and was awarded the Mary Colier Hitchcock Prize for his work on The Washington University Journal of Law & Policy. He clerked for the Maryland Attorney General and then at the Environment & Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice.

In his spare time, he enjoys playing trombone, coaching youth baseball, and hiking and swimming around the Potomac River. He will move from the DC area to St. Louis in January 2022.

Resolution to Increase Solar Opportunities Reached; Advocacy for Accelerated Coal Retirements Continues

Through our Climate and Energy Program, we work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and encourage cleaner energy. Missouri’s electricity is among the most coal-intensive in the country. Our utilities’ coal-burning power plants are old and lack up-to-date pollution controls, which keep them relatively cheap at the expense of the public’s health and a stable climate. We regularly appear before the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) to press Missouri’s investor-owned utilities for change.

Ameren Missouri’s Energy Plan

Before the PSC on Ameren Missouri’s triennial long-range (20-year) plan, we represented traditional environmental advocates – Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council – along with environmental justice organizations the Missouri NAACP, Dutchtown South Community Corporation, and New Northside Missionary Baptist Church.

In June 2021, we reached a joint resolution with Ameren Missouri that addressed many of the deficiencies and concerns raised by our five clients. Included among the solutions is a commitment by Ameren Missouri to continue to identify opportunities that benefit underserved communities through the deployment of renewable resources, efficient electrification, and energy savings programs. Potential benefits within underserved communities will include building envelope efficiency measures for tenants, tree planting programs, job training services, and solar opportunities for low-income communities with workforce development options.

Evergy’s Energy and Electrification Plans

On Evergy’s triennial long-range (20-year) plan, we have intervened for Sierra Club. We’ll be pushing Evergy for accelerated coal retirements. We also spent a chunk of October in front of the PSC on Evergy’s plan to electrify transportation, representing Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council. We generally support the electrification of transportation, which is a way to get off our oil addiction and clean the air.

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.

Combatting the Threat of PFAS

PFAS – A Pressing Threat

A group of chemicals called “PFAS” (Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are commonly tagged as “forever chemicals.” They are man-made and they don’t break down. When they get into our waters they can travel far from their original discharge sites.  If people or animals eat food or drink water that contains PFAS, the PFAS are absorbed and accumulate in the body. PFAS levels can accumulate to a point where humans will suffer adverse health consequences.

High levels of PFAS can lead to increased cholesterol, decreased vaccine response, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, decreases in infant birth weights, and increased risk of cancer.  

In October 2021 USEPA released its “PFAS Strategic Roadmap: EPA’s Commitments to Action 2021-2024”, in which its Administrator acknowledges, “As the science has continued to develop, we know more now than ever about how PFAS build up in our bodies over long periods of time, and how they can cause adverse health effects that can devastate families.”

Sugar Camp Energy owns and operates the Sugar Camp Energy mining complex in Macedonia, Franklin County, Illinois. The company conducts underground mining operations at the Mine using the “longwall” method. Attempting to extinguish a fire that had been smoldering at the Mine, Sugar Camp Energy pumped more than 46,000 gallons of firefighting foam into the Mine beginning in mid-August. To disperse the foam into the Mine, the Company drilled six wells. The foam was mixed in two earthen pits and pumped into two of the wells.

In September 2021, citizens and local water district officials documented foam floating on the surface of an unnamed tributary of Akin Creek and in nearby farm field ditches. The foam was also observed to be spread on nearby farm fields.

Although representatives of Sugar Camp Energy asserted to IEPA that the foam used by the company is “biodegradable, will not harm fish or wildlife, and will not destroy or retard new forest growth”, most of the products Sugar Camp used to fight the fire are toxic and have not been shown to be actually biodegradable, as noted in the Material Safety Data Sheet files for the products themselves. In fact, two of the foam products used contain PFAS chemicals. Samples collected by IEPA from nearby surface water locations were found to contain PFAS in concentrations higher than EPA health advisory levels, Illinois drinking water health advisory levels, and Illinois draft groundwater standards.

In October 2021, for Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers Network, Great Rivers served notice of intent to bring a citizen suit against Sugar Camp Energy and American Consolidated Natural Resources under the federal Clean Water Act and the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

If Sugar Camp Energy does not fully comply with federal law by containing, destroying, and removing the foam from the Mine and remediating impacted surface and groundwater, Great Rivers, Sierra Club, and Prairie Rivers Network intend to file a citizens’ suit seeking civil penalties and for an injunction compelling compliance with federal law.

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.

Cleaning Up the Hyde Park Neighborhood

In our Environmental Justice program, we work mostly in Missouri’s urban spaces where there are few, if any, wild spaces. Still, the land there is every bit as precious to those who call it home.

For far too many years an industrial facility in the St. Louis’ Hyde Park Neighborhood has been using parcels of property for what appears to be an unpermitted junkyard. The properties often are littered with trash. They create drainage issues and other problems for their neighbors. In the past, we have asked the business to abate the nuisances, but they have continued undeterred. For too many years now, the properties have presented a threat to the health, safety, and well-being of neighboring residents.

The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association of North St. Louis works hard to improve the quality of life in the Hyde Park Neighborhood by combatting forces that contribute to decreased housing values, criminal activity, and promote disinvestment from their community. It has asked for our help on this one.

In mid-September, we gave formal notice of the nuisance conditions and of our intent to seek relief in court to abate the nuisances.

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.

An Update From Our Sustainable Lands Program

In the Ozark National Scenic Riverways (ONSR), Great Rivers is defending a lawsuit in which Shannon County seeks a judgment that tracts of land within the ONSR are “burdened by public roads no less than thirty feet in width,” even though these roads cease to exist in the United States Department of Interior’s recently published Roads and Trails Management Plan.

We believe that these requested roads are illegal and have no place in the ONSR. Fifty years ago, Leo and Kay Drey conveyed an easement to the United States over these same tracts of land for the “preservation of the scenic and other natural values” in the ONSR.  These roads would violate the easement and degrade the park.

Through our Sustainable Lands Program, we protect Missouri’s special wild places – our parks, forests and wilderness areas.

In Howell County, Missouri along the Eleven Point River, Great Rivers is standing behind a community that opposes a proposed mining operation.

The proposed mine lies within an area of significant karst development. There are forty-nine sinkholes and miles of losing stream within a five-mile radius of the proposed mine, as well as numerous drinking water wells. The mine also lies within the recharge area of Greer Spring, the second largest spring in Missouri which discharges upwards of 220 million gallons per day to the Eleven Point River. According to Geologists and Scientists retained by the community, “Unless this site has unique and valuable rock or mineral resources, this is precisely the kind of site that prudent and responsible mining operators have learned from experience to avoid”.

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.

President’s Letter

When it comes to environmental protection, Congress may be stuck at the moment, but there is no slowing down at Great Rivers.

From protecting Missouri’s special wild places through our Sustainable Lands Program to protecting communities in our built environment through our Environmental Justice Program, we press ahead. We race to confront threats to our waters and to the air we breathe. With urgency, we work to decrease carbon emissions and transition to clean energy through our Climate and Energy Program.

A few weeks ago, we were able to gather in person with many of you for the first time in two years. We gave thanks to two long-time Great Rivers’ colleagues, the late Senator Wayne Goode, and our just-retired Henry Robertson. The handshakes, hugs, and well-wishes we exchanged gave us a great lift!

Speaking of Henry, he speaks out in this newsletter on the Spire pipeline controversy. Though retired, Henry still is working to address climate and energy issues. We also introduce a new voice, Ethan Thompson, the newest member of our Great Rivers’ team.

Bruce Morrison

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.

Will We Freeze This Winter? A Response to Spire.


You probably saw an email that Spire sent to all its customers on November 4. It panicked a lot of people into thinking they’ll lose heat in December if the new Spire STL gas pipeline shuts down.

Henry Robertson
Henry Robertson retired in 2021 after serving as Great Rivers Environmental Law Center’s Climate and Energy Program Director for many years.

Don’t worry, it won’t be shut down. Spire isn’t telling the whole truth, which is that it’s scare-mongering to escape a dilemma of its own making. 

Like any utility, Spire profits from building new infrastructure that its ratepayers — us — have to pay for. An interstate pipeline like the Spire STL has to be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). To get a certificate to build it, Spire had to convince FERC that there was a need for this pipeline. Spire thought it could get this past FERC. That was a good bet; FERC has hardly ever seen a pipeline proposal it didn’t like.

In fact, there was no need. Spire even had to admit to FERC that there was no shortage of gas supply to the St. Louis region. They held an “open house” to see if any natural gas shipper would agree to use the new pipeline. Not one was interested.

So Spire submitted to FERC an agreement it signed with its fully owned subsidiary Spire Missouri (formerly Laclede Gas) as the sole customer for this pipeline. FERC rubber-stamped the application.

But this was too much for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. They threw out the approval because Spire had engaged in “self-dealing” with its own affiliate. Since that decision Spire has mounted a massive lobbying campaign trying to blame someone else for the consequences of its own actions.

FERC will not let us freeze this winter. But next year it will have to reconsider Spire’s application and decide if Spire’s wrongdoing can be safely undone.


Henry Robertson
November 7, 2021

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.

Notice Filed of Intent to Sue Coal Mine Operator over Illegal Discharge of PFAS-Laden Foam

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 
Monday, November 1, 2021

Contacts: Hannah Lee Flath, hannahlee.flath@sierraclub.org, 860-634-0225 
Andrew Rehn, arehn@prairierivers.org, 708-305-6181
Linden Mueller, linden@greatriverslaw.org, 314-231-4181 

AKIN, IL. — Today, Sierra Club Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network, represented by Great Rivers Environmental Law Center and Albert Ettinger, announced that they filed a Notice of Intent to sue Sugar Camp Energy LLC and American Consolidated Natural Resources due to the Sugar Camp coal mine’s violations of the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This announcement comes on the heels of the report that operators at the Sugar Camp Mine dumped 46,000 gallons of fire fighting foam, including at least 660 gallons of concentrated PFAS-based foam deep into the underground mine in an unsuccessful attempt to extinguish a fire that has been burning underground for the past two months. 

“The use of firefighting foam containing toxic PFAS chemicals at Sugar Camp Mine poses a threat to the public health of the nearby community and the surrounding environment, and Sugar Camp Energy must be held accountable,” says Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “Sugar Camp Energy’s violations of the Clean Water Act, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act are just the latest reminder that Illinois must move beyond coal and transition to a safer, renewable energy future. That future starts with holding coal companies accountable for their actions and protecting communities from further harm.” 

Despite claims from the Sugar Camp coal mine that the foam used by the company in an attempt to extinguish the fire was “biodegradable” and would not “harm fish or wildlife and will not destroy or retard new forest growth,” much of the firefighting foam used at the mine is, in fact, highly toxic, and some contain PFAS. PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are highly persistent “forever chemicals” that, when ingested, can lead to serious health problems including cancer and organ and immune system damage. Studies have linked prolonged PFAS exposure to cancer, thyroid disorders, decreased fertility, and elevated cholesterol.  

“The substances being discharged by the Mine into nearby surface waters present a great environmental and health concern because of their potential to persist forever in the environment,” says Sarah Rubenstein, staff attorney with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. Great Rivers has significant experience bringing Clean Water Act citizen suits, and is providing legal representation to Sierra Club and Prairie Rivers in this matter to address the dangerous situation at the Mine and the surrounding environment.

Sierra Club Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network’s notice states that samples collected by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from nearby surface water locations found concentrations of PFAS higher than EPA health advisory levels, Illinois drinking water health advisory levels, and Illinois draft groundwater standards. Sugar Camp’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit does not authorize any discharges into the nearby watersheds, nor does it allow for the discharge of PFAS or other toxic substances found to be present in the nearby watersheds. 

“The irresponsible discharge of highly toxic chemicals into the ground and surrounding waterways is a great concern to myself and anyone with private water supplies in the area. Extensive, long-term testing must be made available to landowners,” says Tabitha Tripp, an Illinois landowner and environmental advocate. “Foresight must be held accountable for poisoning water supplies – this is not a burden that should fall on the landowners of Illinois. Sadly, once a water source is contaminated with a forever chemical like PFAS, the expense to purify water is simply not affordable. Mining coal is not worth the damage it’s doing to us and the land and to our health.”

“Sugar Camp Mine discharges to tributaries of Akin Creek and Middle Fork Big Muddy River and to the Akin Creek and Middle Fork Big Muddy River bodies of water directly,” says Andrew Rehn, Water Resources Engineer with Prairie Rivers Network. “As Illinois phases out the type of firefighting foam used under the recently passed PFAS Reduction Act, it is critical that we hold polluters accountable when violations occur in order to protect local watersheds and the health of nearby communities.”

You can view the filing 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.

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 immersing oneself in nature are practically endless. 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.


Matthew Boyd – Outreach and Development Intern, Summer

Matthew is a sophomore at Washington University in St Louis pursuing a double major in Environmental Policy and Sociology. Matthew’s passion for the environment and social justice lead him to Great Rivers where he hopes to help make a difference in his hometown and after Great Rivers he would like to do the same in more places. In his free time, Matthew primarily enjoys sports, writing and listening to music (check out the DJs at KWUR 90.3 FM!) with him saying that seeing Tyler, the Creator in concert was a highlight of his life.


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.


Sirapan To-in – Legal and Outreach and Development Intern, Summer

Sirapan worked in the field of combating human trafficking and IUU in the seafood supply chain in Thailand prior to coming to the U.S. and worked at the University’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Law Clinic during his study at WashULaw. When he’s not working with Great Rivers, Sirapan also works as a farm justice intern at the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Sirapan enjoys creating designs, infographics, and posters for educational purposes. In his free time, Sirapan can be found going on bike rides and camping trips.


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.