Environmentalists criticize EPA over Missouri Ameren plant

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Some St. Louis-area environmental watchdogs are criticizing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to declare that Missouri’s largest coal-fired power plant has met a key air quality regulation.

The EPA proposal, if approved, would mean Ameren Corp. would not have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to install pollution controls called “scrubbers” to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide being emitted from its Labadie Energy Center plant in Franklin County, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Critics argue Ameren has not installed air monitoring equipment in a large arc southeast of the plant, where the wind generally pushes emissions, making it impossible for the EPA to know the plant’s impact on air pollution.

“It’s a premature decision,” said Ken Miller, an environmental scientist at Washington University’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic, which closely tracks Ameren. “Only after you’ve filled that data gap will you have enough information.”

The proposal comes after the EPA during the Trump administration has ruled that 52 areas across the country that previously had failed to meet safe pollution goals or were “unclassifiable” have now become compliant.

The ruling would leave the Ameren plant as the largest coal plant in the country without the technology to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions on any of its units, the critics said.

Ameren argued that it has a “very robust monitoring system” around its Labadie plant.

“This wasn’t done arbitrarily,” said Steve Whitworth, Ameren’s senior director of environmental policy and analysis. “It’s a very exacting process.”

Ameren’s placement of air monitors around the plant has long been a source of controversy.

The Sierra Club has argued that Ameren intentionally located monitors where terrain and weather reduces concentrations of sulfur dioxide, which is linked to respiratory problems and other health issues.

Ameren has rejected proposals that it place air monitors southeast of the plant. In comments submitted this month to Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Ameren said the company contended the monitors were placed after “considerable input and collaboration” with DNR and the EPA, and “were sited at the point of maximum impacts based on two separate modeling efforts.”

The EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 30 days after its entered in the Federal Register and critics say they will fight the proposal.

Andy Knott, a St. Louis-based representative of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said it is “deeply disturbing” that the plant has not yet installed scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide.

“It’s the largest unscrubbed coal plant in the country that doesn’t have a retirement date in the next 10 years, and it’s getting off scot-free,” Knott said.

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