Great Rivers Environmental Law Center

Citizens in Jefferson County Get a Voice in Court

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

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

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Excavation Equipment

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

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

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

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

#GiveSTLDay Event a Lot of Fun!

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

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


See video from the event:

Our own live video from the event:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read the full comments here.


Great Rivers Submits Comments On Bridgeton Landfill

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

Full comments available here.

Great Rivers Files Comments to Protect Clean Water

Today on behalf of the Missouri State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“Missouri NAACP”), Great Rivers submitted comments on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s and the Army Corps’ proposed Revised Definition of “Waters of the United States.”  The proposed rule is a bad rule for water quality, habitat loss, and flood impacts.  The new definition would roll back protections which have been in place since President Carter held office.  Unless EPA and the Army Corps change course, this particular proposal will remove protections for at least half the remaining wetlands in the United States.

Full comments available here.

Great Rivers Environmental Law Center Serves Notice of Intent to Sue to Protect Meramec River from Oil, Grease and Chlorine Pollution

On April 3, 2019, on behalf of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper (MCW), Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed a formal Notice of Intent to sue MotoMart for violations of the federal and state Clean Water laws. MCW believes that MotoMart’s own reports show continuous and ongoing violations of the law in that the company discharges E. coli, oil and grease, total suspended solids, and chlorine—into the Meramec River in concentrations and amounts that exceed effluent limitations contained in its permit.

The MotoMart at issue is located in Valley Park, Missouri, nearby to popular swimming and recreation places for thousands of people each year. The pollutants discharged present threats to public health, and diminish use and enjoyment of those waters and the aquatic-dependent wildlife and ecosystems they support. The company’s records show that the pollution has exceeded limits for at least five years.

“The E. coli, oil, grease, total suspended solids, and chlorine, threaten the quality of the Meramec River for people, fish and wildlife that depend on the River for recreation and habitat,” said Rachel Bartels, Director of Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper. “These violations of the law must stop.”

“Discharges from MotoMart have consistently violated and continue to violate the Clean Water Act and present a direct and substantial threat to the water quality of the Meramec River, especially in light of Meramec River’s status as an impaired water,” said Bob Menees, staff attorney at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court sixty days after the notice is served on the company.

Volunteer Spotlight: Jim Wilson

Jim is recognized as a Senior Counselor by the Mo. Bar for over 50 years of practice of law. He  served as City Counselor for the City of St. Louis and also was an adjunct professor at St. Louis University. He has lectured on American  government in China, Vietnam, and the Ukraine for an Affiliate of the United Nations.
As City Counselor he met Great Rivers’s founder, Lewis C. Green, while handling several lawsuits, both as an adversary  and as a colleague. Jim developed an admiration for Lewis. He assisted Lewis in the founding of Great Rivers and served as Chairman of the Board for its initial nine years.  In that role, he helped develop legal strategies in regard to Clean Water, Clean Air and Renewable Energy. He continues to serve on the Board and participates in the work of various committees.
While City Counselor he developed a strong interest in the Environment with matters such as the development of a Trash to Energy Project, removal of radioactive waste at Lambert Field, and preventing the destruction of wetlands along the Missouri river, needed for the Riverport Stadium Project opposed by the City of St. Louis.
Presently Mr. Wilson enjoys retirement by reading history, playing golf and spectating at various grandkids’ sporting events. Jim is an avid traveler and has visited all seven continents. He is currently serving  as Chairman of the Advocacy Committee of the Society of Vincent de Paul which is endeavoring to support legislation that will assist the Poor.
Jim Wilson 3.jpg
We asked Jim a few questions so you can get to know him better:
What book is on your nightstand right now? Currently, I am listening to the audio version of “The First Conspiracy,” which is about an attempt by the British to assassinate  George Washington early in the Revolutionary War.
What is the best vacation you ever took? My favorite vacation was visiting Antarctica.
What is the most memorable compliment you ever received? A compliment from my wife on my work when she attended my Argument in the United States Supreme Court in 1987.
How do you like to unwind after a long day? I enjoy listening to music with a “Manhattan” at the end of the day.
Who is your favorite superhero? One of my favorite “superheros” is Adlai  Stevenson.


Great Rivers Demands St. Louis City Clean Up Polluting Business in Hyde Park

On March 22, 2019, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center sent a formal Complaint to the City of St. Louis on behalf of residents of the Hyde Park neighborhood in North St. Louis. Great Rivers requested the City to take appropriate action against two businesses that are violating City ordinances by using public rights-of-way for their private loading dock, storage facility, and dumping site. For decades these businesses have continuously dumped refuse along the north side of Farrar Avenue, just west of 21st Street, by placing their metal, industrial waste, and other solid wastes in the sidewalk. One business does not use refuse containers. The businesses have no permits from the Board of Public Service to maintain these obstructions and encroachments, which obstruct the sidewalks and parts of streets. These properties are not approved sanitary landfill sites, and neither entity has approval from the Refuse Commissioner to dump its refuse on the sidewalk. Not only does this practice cause illegal obstructions and encroachments to the public right-of-way, it constitutes illegal dumping of solid waste.

Public health and zoning ordinances are designed to protect citizens from public nuisances. When those ordinances are not enforced by the government with authority to do so, citizens suffer and have little recourse against the offending businesses. The City of St. Louis has turned a blind eye to two businesses that cause disparate health and safety impacts to this minority community.

“The City needs to stop ignoring the illegal activities of businesses in North St. Louis,” said Bob Menees, attorney at Great Rivers Environmental Law Center. “Cities must enforce the laws in all communities and not ignore them in minority and low-income communities.”

Great Rivers’ Complaint asks the City of St. Louis to enforce its ordinances as written to require these businesses to clean up their act and to help improve the environment and community of Hyde Park.

Sunshine and Wine: a Fun Event in Southern Illinois

We partnered with StraightUp Solar to host “Sunshine and Wine” on March 23, 2019 at Alto Vineyards near Carbondale, Illinois. Attendees enjoyed free tastes of local wine and learned about opportunities to get involved with Great Rivers and to add solar power to their home or business.

Check out photos from the event and a video of remarks from the event by Great Rivers’ staff.