On January 23, 2017, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri issued a decision holding Ameren Missouri liable for violations of the Clean Air Act at its Rush Island coal plant in Jefferson County, Missouri.
On behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Ameren in 2011 for violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review provisions after Ameren made major upgrades to boilers at the 41-year old Rush Island plant. Those upgrades significantly increased emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Ameren should have applied for a permit for those upgrades, which would have required it to install pollution controls to reduce SO2 emissions.
“This is the latest example of Ameren thumbing its nose at the law and prioritizing profit over public health,” said Andy Knott, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Missouri. “Ameren has violated the Clean Air Act and continues to rely on old, outdated coal plants instead of cleaning them up or investing in cheap, clean energy that also creates jobs.”
Short-term exposure to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to effects of SO2. SO2 emissions can also lead to formation of small particles in the air. These particles may penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and cause additional health problems. A 2010 report by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that air pollution from the Rush Island plan contributes to 40 premature deaths, 61 heart attacks and 670 asthma attacks per year.
Chief Judge Rodney Sippel’s order states: “I conclude the United States has established that Ameren should have expected, and did expect, the projects at Rush Island to increase unit availability…which enabled Ameren to run its units more, generate more electricity, and emit significantly more pollution….As a result, I conclude that the United States has established by a preponderance of the evidence that Ameren violated…the Clean Air Act.” Judge Sippel also stated that he would be be entering a finding of liability against Ameren in the case and would set a status conference to establish remedies to the violations.
In 2013, EPA determined that portions of Jefferson County including the Rush Island plant failed to meet the public health standard for SO2 pollution. Rush Island is the largest source of SO2 pollution in the area, and it has no SO2 pollution controls. Air quality modeling by Sierra Club and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has indicated that the Rush Island plant contributes to unhealthy air quality in the area. Last month, Sierra Club urged EPA to reject Missouri DNR’s inadequate plan to bring the area into compliance and issue a federal plan to do so.
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