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Missouri And Illinois Reduce Carbon Emissions But Still Remain Top Polluters

Ameren Missouri's Labadie Energy Center in Labadie, Missouri.
File Photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri currently gets more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants like Ameren's Labadie Energy Center.

Missouri and Illinois are producing less carbon pollution than a decade ago but are still emitting more than many other states, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Both states have cut their emissions from 2005 by about a sixth, according to the federal statistics agency, a division of the U.S. Department of Energy. However, Missouri and Illinois are among the states with the top 15 highest emissions.

Decisions by utilities to close power plants or coal-burning units in some plants are largely responsible for the reductions in carbon emissions, according to scientists and environmental groups. Given that a large portion of Missouri’s carbon emissions come from the electric sector, more coal-fired power plants need to close, said John Hickey, director of the Missouri Sierra Club.

“All we’ve got to do is retire a couple of these big coal plants and we make a huge difference in greenhouse gas pollution,” Hickey said.

Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to the rising temperatures that are causing climate change, increasing human premature deaths and more extreme-weather events. Most power plants in Missouri burn coal, said David Crossley, a geophysics professor at St. Louis University.

“Coal is by far the largest carbon dioxide polluter compared to oil and natural gas, on a carbon-dioxide-per-kilogram basis,” Crossley said.


Environmentalists in Missouri want to see the state’s largest utility, Ameren Missouri, shut down its coal facilities.

“Across the state, we’re seeing utilities move from dirty coal to clean energy,” Hickey said. “The utility that’s done the least of that is Ameren, unfortunately.”

Ameren is retiring its Meramec power plant in south St. Louis County in 2022 and its Sioux power plant in West Alton in 2033. The company also plans to build wind facilities in northeast and northwest Missouri.

Emissions from the transportation sector are also contributing a large amount of carbon pollution in both states, according to the federal report. Environmental activists in Illinois want state legislators there to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which would replace a million gas- and diesel-engine vehicles with electric vehicles.

The rule aims to generate all of Illinois’ energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources. Legislators could make a major difference in fighting climate change, said Elizabeth Scrafford, an organizer with the Illinois Sierra Club.

“Our health is depending on planning for our future, our climate is depending on it,” Scrafford said. “And this is the time for our state leaders to step up and begin to do this hard work.”


The Missouri Department of Natural Resources does not collect or analyze data on greenhouse gas emissions, said Darcy Bybee, director of the agency’s Air Pollution Control Program. That’s conducted by federal agencies.

However, the state could soon develop a plan for addressing emissions, after the Environmental Protection Agency repeals the Clean Power Plan, Bybee added. The EPA last fall proposed to replace the program with the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule is a “disastrous replacement for the Clean Power Plan,” Crossley said.

“[The Affordable Clean Energy rule] is designed to make it easy for power plants to continue emitting high levels of carbon dioxide with no specific targets for replacing coal with wind and solar energy,” Crossley wrote in his email. “The ACE has been slammed by all major scientific and engineering studies involved in climate change.”

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Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.