Appeals Court Finds Ameren Violated Clean Air Act, Must Install Pollution Controls At JeffCo Plant
A federal appeals court ruled Friday that Ameren Missouri violated the Clean Air Act when it made upgrades to its Rush Island Energy Center, upholding a district court opinion from 2017.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision also upholds part of U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel’s 2019 order that the utility install scrubbers at the power plant in Festus.
The latest ruling is significant because now four federal judges in two courts agree about Ameren’s operations, said Andy Knott, central region director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
“Ameren can no longer pretend that they did not violate the Clean Air Act at the Rush Island plant,” he said. “They can no longer pretend to be a good neighbor.”
A spokesperson for Ameren said the company is disappointed by the court's decision and that it must review it before taking any steps.
The spokesperson added state monitors near Rush Island show air quality in the region is good and fully complies with federal standards.
The appellate court’s decision on Friday wasn’t a total win for environmentalists. The three-judge panel reversed the lower court order that Ameren also install pollution controls at the Labadie Energy Center in Franklin County, intended to offset the excess pollution from Rush Island.
“The government never provided notice of or alleged that the Ameren’s Labadie plant committed a violation of the CAA, [Clean Air Act]” the court wrote. “Because Ameren committed no violation at its Labadie plant, the district court lacked authority to authorize injunctive relief as to it.”
Ameren officials say that the Labadie plant is in full compliance with state and federal laws.
“Ameren continues to say that all of its coal plants are in compliance and there aren’t any public health issues,” Knott said. “Today’s ruling by the 8th circuit shows that’s not the case at Rush Island and it really questions Ameren’s legitimacy in terms of their claims of pollution issues at their other plants.”
Patricia Schuba, president of the Labadie Environmental Organization, agrees the 8th circuit’s decision clears a path for pollution controls at Ameren’s plant four miles away from where she lives.
These kinds of lawsuits are costly and can often drag on for years, Schuba explained. In that time, local residents continue to suffer exposure to particulate pollution and sulfur-dioxide, she said.
“The average community cannot fight these companies, that’s why we need regulators to do the job of ensuring the public and environment is safe,” she said. “And they have let us down.”
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.