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Federal Judge Orders Ameren To Install Air Pollution Controls At Two Power Plants

Ameren's 2,400-megawatt plant near Labadie, Missouri, is the state's largest coal-fired power plant. It produces an average of 550,000 tons of coal ash each year.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

A federal judge on Monday ordered Ameren Missouri to install devices at its power plants in Festus and Labadie to remove harmful air pollutants. 

U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel ruled that Ameren has 90 days to apply for a Clean Air Act permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to install scrubbers at the Rush Island Energy Center in Festus.

The decision comes as a victory to people who have long advocated for clean air quality around the two power plants, said Andy Knott, a campaign representative for the Sierra Club. 

“These [Clean Air Act] violations have been going on for years and have cost people living in the area in terms of asthma attacks and premature deaths,” Knott said. “It’s really just time for Ameren to move on and stop dragging its feet and clean the air that hundreds of thousands of people in the region are breathing.” 

The utility also has three years to install similar technologies at the Labadie Energy Center, a facility in 2017 that ranked as the fourth-highest sulfur dioxide emitter in the U.S. The technology would operate at the Labadie plant “until it reduces the pollution from Labadie in an amount equal to the excess emissions from Rush Island,” Sippel said in his ruling.

Sippel’s long-awaited order follows his 2017 ruling that Ameren had violated the Clean Air Act in upgrading boiler equipment at the Rush Island Energy Center in the late 2000s. The Environmental Protection Agency sued the utility in 2011 for raising sulfur dioxide emissions after installing the boiler equipment. 

Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas that can cause asthma and worsen respiratory illnesses. The Sierra Club’s Missouri chapter and residents near the plants had pressed Ameren to install scrubbers for many years. 

An Ameren spokesperson said the company plans to appeal the ruling. The utility’s officials have often said in the past that its power plants are in compliance with the Clean Air Act and that installing pollution control devices would be an unnecessary expense that could be costly for customers. 

Ameren spent about $600 million to install scrubbers in 2010 at its Sioux Energy Center in West Alton.

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