Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Great Rivers Doubles Down in Fight Against Maryland Heights Floodplain Development

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Rivers Expands Capacity to Protect Region’s Most Vulnerable Children

Madeline Middlebrooks
Madeline Middlebrooks will fight dangerous lead contamination in local schools’ drinking water.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is delighted to announce the addition of Madeline Middlebrooks to our legal team in a full-time capacity.

Motivated by the environmental injustices in her grandmother’s North St. Louis community and inspired by the belief that one’s zip code should not determine their access to clean air and water, Madeline decided early to devote her talents to the public good.  She left Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, to attend the University of Oregon. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and minors in both Geography and Nonprofit Management, she pursued the study of law at the University of Denver.

During her time at Denver University, Madeline gained significant real-world experience in public interest law. She interned at Environment Colorado, Earthjustice, Siegal Public Affairs, and the Colorado Supreme Court before joining Great Rivers as an intern for her 2nd and 3rd year summer internships. In her spare time at Denver University, she created the institution’s first-ever multicultural room to allow students from a wide variety of backgrounds to come together and celebrate and learn from each other’s experiences. She also served as an active board member of Denver Law’s Black Law Student Association.

Madeline’s work at Great Rivers will focus on addressing the lead contamination crisis in St. Louis Public Schools. In even small quantities, lead can cause irreversible damage to children’s mental and physical development. It is unconscionable that children who already face difficult backgrounds and struggling school district be harmed with an additional burden of pollution in their bodies.

Great Rivers has worked through the courts since 2002 to ensure that our neighbors have clean air, safe water, and healthy, protected wild lands. We are thrilled to have Madeline join Great Rivers in our work to ensure that all Missourian’s – especially our most vulnerable children – have a legal advocate to defend their environment and health.

When she’s not saving the world, Madeline likes to explore our state parks, play with her corgi Moe Taters and make soups from scratch.  She and her fiance’ Greg live in St. Charles, Missouri.

Madeline joins us as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Faber Daeufer and Itrato, PC. To learn more about Madeline and her work, you can read a great write-up by Equal Justice Works here.

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

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center sees Victory in Water Pollution Case

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has reached an agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging ongoing, repeated and unlawful discharges of E. coli, Ammonia and other harmful water pollutants into the Big River by an out-of-state, regional property management company.

Great Rivers alleges that the Illinois-based company has far exceeded the allowable discharge limits from its wastewater lagoon, and the pollution from the lagoon has negatively impacted water quality of the Big River.

“Since 2015, the defendant had flagrantly disregarded several notices from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that they were in significant non-compliance with their water pollution permit,” said Bob Menees, who served as Great Rivers’ lead attorney on the case.

“Unfortunately, they continued using Missouri’s shared waters as their private dumping ground.”

Great Rivers filed the action as a “citizen suit” under the Clean Water Act on behalf of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper, whose members were concerned that the pollution discharges posed dangers to them when using the river for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, or other recreational activities and that the pollution would cause harm to wildlife, including several species of endangered freshwater mussel that are particularly sensitive to ammonia.

The defendant responded to the suit by entering into agreement with the Jefferson County Public Sewer District to take over control of the lagoon and connect it to their central sewer system, thus eliminating the source of pollution from the facility to the Big River.

“This is a good outcome for Missourians who care about protecting our water quality, and for everyone who frequently recreates on the Big River.” said Rachel Bartels, head of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper. “We hope that other would-be polluters will take note that a ‘watchdog’ is out there – and ensure the safe, sustainable treatment of their pollution.”

The settlement additionally requires the company to pay for a supplemental environmental project to mitigate the facility’s pollution, which will be directed to support restoration and cleanup work in the Big River watershed.

You can read coverage of the case in the St. Louis Post Dispatch here.

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

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

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

What is MDNR?

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

What is Title VI?

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

Who is Kinder Morgan?

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

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

What are the potential health impacts from Kinder Morgan?

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

How has MDNR violated Title VI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful Election Resources as we Near November 3

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

Missouri Voter Protection Hotline: (866) 687-8683

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

National Voter Protection Hotline: (833) 336-8693

For detailed information about what’s on the ballot:

Great Rivers Joins Petition Opposing Weakening of Endangered Species Act Guidelines

A monarch butterfly lands on Echinacea

October 8, 2020

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

“Dear Secretary Bernhardt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see the petition and its signatory parties here.

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

A Tribute to Wayne Goode

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

“A wonderful, generous, conscientious public citizen.”

“He always fought for justice.

“We have lost a hero and a friend.”

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

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

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

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

Bruce Morrison
President, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

COVID and Climate Change: The Power of Collective Action

If we can take anything from COVID-19, it’s that we are not separate from nature as much as we’d like to believe.

No matter where we may be or how removed we are from the mercy of the natural world, we still live within it, not above it. Our economy is overrun with businesses that have operated off the idea that polluting and draining natural resources are mere externalities, not damages to a system that we ultimately rely on. Coronavirus is showing us otherwise.

Instead of despairing over what seems like the harbinger of irreversible change, we can, and should, use this opportunity to consider what we can learn from this.

The First Takeaway: Collective action matters.

As we’ve seen from the global response to the spread of coronavirus in effort to “flatten the curve,” individual behaviors together can actually have an extraordinary impact.

It’s easy to justify using a plastic water bottle instead of a reusable one with the thinking, “not using one plastic bottle won’t save the environment.”

In the face of an issue as large as global warming, making an individual effort can seem like a hopelessly ineffectual endeavor. The effects of massive quarantines on the environment revealed the power of collective action: animals began returning to public spaces, China banned wildlife trade along with their emissions being reduced by a quarter, and New York’s carbon monoxide levels nearly halved. Sadly, as normal activity resumes, these changes revert, but we should use this as evidence of the strength of collective influence.

If everybody decided to reuse more and consume less, we would see a startling impact. Simply taking the subway or metro reduces emissions per passenger mile by 76% and encourages energy conservation. Carpooling saves 20 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon that your friend would have used to drive themselves. Other things we can do are to reduce food waste – 40% of America’s food supply goes straight to the trash – and try to switch to renewable energy. Even the littlest efforts toward saving resources can have impacts through the supply chain and reduce carbon emissions.

The Second Takeaway: Continuing the status quo will only get more dangerous.

As the climate continues to warm, humans will see consequences in the forms of resurfacing of ancient viruses, the spreading of existing ones, and potentially unknown repercussions.

The more we destroy the environment and its natural systems, the more pandemics we will invite. Trapped in the rapidly-melting Arctic sheets are diseases that haven’t been seen in the world in millions of years, for which humans lack immunity. In 2016, a young Russian boy died and 20 others were infected when a reindeer killed by anthrax was melted from the permafrost. Residuals of the 1918 flu that killed nearly 3 percent of the world’s population have been found by scientists in Alaska.

Even more concerning are preexisting diseases that could be evolved or spread by climate change. The tropics are currently expanding 30 miles per decade because of warming, bringing with it an expanding range of tropical disease. Yellow fever, once confined to the Amazon Basin, has spread into metropolitan areas. Malaria and Lyme are both diseases likely to be spread by warming as well. Historically, disease was often limited by area and would stay contained to a local population. Globalization has exacerbated the risk of which we are facing the consequences today – consider what may have happened if the Black Death, which wiped out more than half of Europe, had existed at the same time as airplanes.

For all the knowledge we have about potential impacts, it’s likely there is much about the challenges climate change will impose on human health that we remain completely in the dark about. In May 2015, almost two-thirds of the population of small antelopes called “saiga” in Central Asia were extinguished in a “megadeath” over only a few days. The area of land strewn with bodies was approximately the size of Florida. The cause, which initially perplexed scientists, was eventually discovered to be a bacteria living in their tonsils, previously harmless to their hosts and weaponized by the particularly hot and humid weather that season. In terms of impacts on humans, scientists know next-to-nothing about 99 percent of the bacteria living in our bodies – and certainly cannot predict how climate change will affect them.

At some point, we will all be facing the effects of climate change with the same urgency and panic, and again we will be wishing we did something while we could.

It can be generally agreed that most of the world was unprepared for COVID-19. In America, we are seeing the alarming results of our belief that we could stay uniquely isolated from such a pandemic, a reflection of our belief that we can stay isolated from nature. There are parallels throughout: the pandemic provokes uncertainty for the near future, and on a larger scale, climate change destabilizes the future entirely. The rapidity of the pandemic’s development makes it all the more glaring. At some point, we will all be facing the effects of climate change with the same urgency and panic, and again we will be wishing we did something while we could.

No matter how insurmountable climate change seems, we still have a chance to tackle it. Of course, without minimizing the need for change in the larger systems of government and business, we cannot underestimate the impact of our own actions. While we fight for essential structural changes in our laws and policies, we can be conscientious of the mentality we all have towards the way we live day-to-day. We may all feel like specks within a massive system, but we are still a part of the whole. We have to begin to think as such.

Jessica King is a rising senior at Washington University in St. Louis studying English and computer science. Originally from the Bay Area, Jessica is hoping to pursue a sustainability graduate degree and work as an environmental consultant after she graduates. She has been a lover of nature since she was a child building fairy houses in trees and still loves to camp and hike. When she’s not working on WashU’s satirical paper or doing volunteer teaching at schools about environmental issues, Jessica enjoys listening to music and writing eco-poetry.


“Bottled Water Waste Facts.” The World Counts,

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Food Loss and Waste.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA,

“LED Lighting.”,

Lerner, Rebecca. “The Sustainable and Storied Past of Vintage Clothing.” Planet Blue, 8 Dec. 2016,

Meatless Monday: Protect the Planet, One Day Each Week. Compassion Over Killing,

“Reducing Your Transportation Footprint.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 27 Oct. 2017,

Rogers, James. “How Our Global Battle against Coronavirus Could Help Us Fight Climate Change.” World Economic Forum, Apr. 2020,

“Transit's Role in Environmental Sustainability.” Transit's Role in Environmental Sustainability | FTA,

Wallace-Wells, David. “The Coronavirus Is a Preview of Our Climate-Change Future.” Intelligencer, Intelligencer, 8 Apr. 2020,

Citizens and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Continue Partnership to fight Commercial Development

The ability of citizens in residential areas to keep their neighborhoods clean and free of industrial pollution and waste should be a right, not a privilege.

Many of our nation’s environmental justice issues revolve around the way in which a neighborhood’s economic status frequently correlates with both its air and water quality.

Poorer neighborhoods are often unable to fight commercial projects that pose a threat to their public health, especially compared to neighborhoods that retain significant economic resources.

It is not uncommon for residents who face destructive industrial projects in their communities to place their own bodies directly in harm’s way to protect their friends and family, sometimes going so far as to lie in the middle of the road to prevent project materials from being delivered. For many, such measures appear to be the only option they have. This tactic first appeared in 1982, when residents of a low-income neighborhood in Warren County, North Carolina, used it as a means to prevent dump trucks from dumping hazardous waste in a new landfill site created near their homes.

It seems, however, that even when citizens are able to obtain legal representation to oppose the construction of an industrial project, they can still be denied their right to protect and preserve the environmental integrity of their community. This issue is evident in an ongoing case involving residents in Franklin County, MO, whose six years of resistance to the construction of a concrete plant in their neighborhood has been repeatedly circumvented by their county’s Planning and Zoning commission. Landvatter Enterprises LLC, the company responsible for suggesting and pushing the project, has repeatedly denied the environmental harms that the concrete plant will bring to the neighborhood, simply stating in an interview with Fox2now in 2014 that “[w]e’re regulated so there is no dust.”[1] Such a sweeping assurance was met with justifiable skepticism from residents, who believe that the plant will adversely impact the neighborhood’s environment by producing increases in residential traffic, noise, and dust – all of which would harm both the residents and the wildlife in the area.

Local residents are not the only ones concerned about the plant’s potential to degrade the local environment. Standing just 2,400 feet from the plant is the Shaw Nature Reserve. The Reserve is one of the final oases for wildlife remaining in a heavily urbanized part of the state, especially migrating birds looking for a safe place to rest in their journey. It is also the closest nature reserve to the city of St. Louis, serving an important recreation role as a green-space for the community.

In 2014, the Reserve’s director John Behrer voiced his concerns on behalf of the Missouri Botanical Garden, noting that “[f]acilities of the type that [Landvatter LLC] proposes inherently produce noise and dust,” and are even capable of producing smoke stacks that can grow up to 70 feet in length.[2] For this reason, the Reserve considers the proposed location of the plant highly inappropriate and is opposed to its construction.[3]

The notion of central planning has existed from the outset of human civilization. Yet, central planning with an eye toward preservation and public health did not become an important concept until factories (and illness) began to emerge in the 19th and 20th centuries. As factories encroached upon residential areas, pollution became the norm. Efforts to beautify and “clean up” industrial centers and neighborhoods surrounding them resulted in city planning initiatives which established urban greenspaces and more strict zoning standards in the late 19th century. These early initiatives laid the foundations of modern urban land usage and planning and inspired the construction of city parks which remain influential (and beautiful) to this day.

As part of its Land Use Program, Great Rivers joined the residents of Franklin County in 2014 in their ongoing fight to protect their community from the harmful effects that a concrete plant would create. The Land Use Program at Great Rivers strives to assist citizen groups and organizations in defending nature reserves, parks, and other outdoor community spaces from being encroached upon or significantly disturbed by industrial projects. 

Though this case has dragged on for nearly six years, the staff at Great Rivers is committed to assisting the residents of Franklin county in their ongoing battle to preserve the environmental integrity of their neighborhood and protect the Shaw Nature Reserve.

It is vital that citizens have a say in what gets put into their community – whether commercial or industrial.

You can learn more about this six-year-long case on our blog

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.

[1] Roche Madden, “Shaw Nature Reserve and residents fighting proposed concrete plant,” Fox2now, 6 March 2014,

[2] John Behrer, Letter to the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Department from Missouri Botanical Garden, 27 Feb. 2014.

[3] Behrer, Letter to the Franklin County Planning and Zoning Department.

Meet our 2020 Interns!

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has been thrilled to host these bright young people on our intern team this year. Whether helping with legal research, outreach initiatives, content creation or a great variety of other tasks, they bring energy and talent to the enormous battle to protect our environment. We are grateful to them for choosing to serve our local community and the environment through their internship experience.

Georgia Barfield
Washington University School of Law

Georgia Barfield is a summer legal intern at Great Rivers. She graduated with a BA in Philosophy from the University of North Florida in 2018 and is heading into her second year at law school this year. Growing up in Charleston, SC, she developed a deep appreciation for the ecosystems of the South Carolina Lowcountry. This has inspired her to pursue a career in environmental law, with a focus on wetlands protection. In her free time, she enjoys distance running, reading, and camping. 

Abby Chen
Washington University in St. Louis

Abby is a master’s degree student focusing on Business Analytics. While she is originally from Beijing, this will be her third year residing in the United States. In terms of personal interests, she enjoys the feeling of being at one with nature while hiking, and also considers herself to be a bit of a cinema buff!

Rachel Dabbs
Washington University in St. Louis

Rachel Dabbs is serving as a marketing and outreach intern this summer and is excited to share her passion for the environment with others in the St. Louis community! She is currently a rising junior double majoring in Marketing and International Affairs. Growing up in Maryland, she has always been a proud supporter of environmental sustainability and getting involved with her community! In her free time, she enjoys dance, rock climbing, hiking, and skiing.  

Elizabeth Goblirsch, Environmental Law

Elizabeth Goblirsch
Washington University in St. Louis

Elizabeth is a senior double majoring in History and Psychology, and will be completing a senior thesis in history this coming fall. Elizabeth plans to apply to law school and hopes to someday practice in the field of Environmental Law. In her free time, she enjoys running, writing, and taking care of her cacti.

Stephanie Grathwohl
Saint Louis University School of Law

Stephanie Grathwohl grew up in a small farming community in Southern Illinois. She has been working in ecological restoration in the St. Louis area for the past 4 years. Some of the work she is involved in includes native seed production and prairie and woodland restoration.  She graduated from DePaul University in 2011 with a BA degree in political science and community service studies. Stephanie hopes to use her law degree to continue to restore natural areas and educate the community on the need for environmental preservation.  In her free time, she enjoys playing music, foraging, making herbal medicines and mountain biking.

Joanna Grill
Washington University in St. Louis

Joanna Grill is a summer legal intern at Great Rivers from the Boston area and is a rising senior. At WashU, she studies sociology with minors in legal studies and business of social impact. After college, Joanna hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in public interest law. Her concerns about climate change and environmental racism grew in high school, and she’s been passionate about learning about and combating both ever since. She is also a lifelong lover of the outdoors, and in her free time, you can find her outside hiking, tossing a Frisbee, biking, or playing guitar. 

Lavran Johnson
Harvard Law School

Lavran Johnson has spent much of his life outdoors. He grew up in Seattle, studied diverse topics as a member of the University of Redland’s Johnston Center, and worked for several years as an outdoor educator and climbing instructor. Now, as a law student and legal intern, he is anxious to protect vulnerable places and people from all kinds of environmental harms.

Jessica King
Washington University in St. Louis

Jessica King is a rising senior studying English and computer science. Originally from the Bay Area, Jessica is hoping to pursue a sustainability graduate degree and work as an environmental consultant after she graduates. She has been a lover of nature since she was a child building fairy houses in trees and still loves to camp and hike. When she’s not working on WashU’s satirical paper or doing volunteer teaching at schools about environmental issues, Jessica enjoys listening to music and writing eco-poetry.

Hale Masaki
Vanderbilt University

Hale is a rising sophomore majoring in Earth and Environmental Sciences and Environmental Sociology. A St. Louis native, Hale has been passionate about the environment from a young age, and is excited to help Great Rivers advocate for the needs of others. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with friends and family, and hosts a radio show on VandyRadio.

Joel Nelson
Washington University in St. Louis

Joel has spent nearly his entire life dedicated to serving the community. Over years of study and real-world experience, he has gained many skills needed to properly serve as a Community Building and Outreach Intern for this summer! And as a native Floridian, he’s always been very immersed in the environment, and quite enjoys hiking and fishing when he’s not busy with the responsibilities of day to day life!

Lara Rix
Washington University in St. Louis

Lara Rix is an undergraduate legal intern at Great Rivers. Originally from Portland, Oregon, she is heading into her senior year. As a political science and women’s studies double major, she is primarily interested in the intersection between environment and social issues, and is hoping to pursue law school post graduation. In her free time, Lara enjoys rock climbing, hiking, running for Washington University’s track and cross country teams, and trying new coffee shops around St. Louis. 

Holly Lawrence
Washington University in St. Louis

Holly Lawrence is a junior studying  Environmental Policy and International Affairs with a minor in Design. A lifelong lover of wild spaces, she hopes to combine her areas of study to advocate for a brighter, greener, and more beautiful future across the globe. In St. Louis, she keeps herself busy as a member of the WashU track and field team and by leading outdoor recreation trips for first-year students.