On August 31st, the Missouri Air Conservation Commission held a public hearing on whether to recommend that US EPA declare the air quality in a large portion of Jefferson County, Missouri as meeting federal health-based standards for sulfur dioxide pollution. The Sierra Club strongly opposed this proposal by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources because it would allow Ameren’s Rush Island plant – which emits 97% of the sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution in the area – to continue to pollute without installing modern pollution controls. Even with as little as five minutes of exposure, SO2 pollution can seriously impair lung function, intensify asthma attacks, and trigger more visits to emergency rooms and hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses. A 2010 report by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that air pollution from the Rush Island plant contributes to 40 premature deaths, 61 heart attacks, and 670 asthma attacks per year.
“DNR’s proposal would enable Ameren’s Rush Island plant to avoid using extremely-effective, long-proven air pollution controls for sulfur dioxide. It’s a clear violation of the Clean Air Act,” said Maxine Lipeles, Director of the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic on behalf of the Sierra Club. “The proposal also fails to hold the plant accountable by relying on air monitors cleverly placed by Ameren to avoid the highest pollution areas identified by Ameren’s own modeling. DNR can and must do far better to comply with the Clean Air Act and protect children, the elderly, and asthmatics who are most at risk due to sulfur dioxide pollution.”
The attached map illustrates how Ameren’s own modeling shows that monitors the company has placed around the Rush Island plant does not include a monitor in the area of predicted highest concentration.
“It is hard to believe that the DNR, which is charged with protecting public health, would allow Ameren to avoid monitoring the air where the company expects the levels to be the highest,” said Woody Lawson, Herculaneum resident. “I live near the Rush Island plant, and I expect DNR to do its job and protect me, my family and neighbors.”
DNR’s proposal is also flawed because it assumes that the Rush Island plant won’t increase its SO2 emissions for the next 13 years, even though the plant’s permit would allow for a three-fold increase in emissions.
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.
In January, 2017, a federal judge in St. Louis found Ameren liable for the violations. The case has now entered a remedy phase to determine how the violations will be resolved. Sierra Club intervened in the case in February, 2017.
DNR was accepting written comments on the plan until September 7th, and will ask the Missouri Air Conservation Commission to approve its recommendation at its September 28 meeting.
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