Sierra Club Takes Steps to Defend Judge’s Order in Ameren Clean Air Act Lawsuit

On Thursday February 16th, Sierra Club was granted conditional approval to become a formal party to a Clean Air Act lawsuit against Ameren’s Rush Island coal plant. A 2011 lawsuit led by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be in jeopardy in light of Trump’s election, last week’s appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and this week’s potential appointment of Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA.“This is not a matter of political opinion. Ameren violated the law, and we hope the new administration will follow through and enforce the law. However, if the Trump administration refuses to do its job, Sierra Club stands ready to vigorously defend Judge Sippel’s order and ensure Ameren is held accountable,” said Andy Knott, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Missouri.

In January, Chief Judge Rodney Sippel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri found Ameren Missouri liable for violations of the Clean Air Act at its Rush Island coal plant in Jefferson County, Missouri. With the change in administration, it is unclear whether the next phase in the litigation–the process to bring the plant into compliance–will be a priority for the Trump Administration. Over the course of this six-year case, the United States developed a compelling record detailing Ameren’s violations of the Clean Air Act.

In asking Judge Sippel to grant its intervention in the case, Sierra Club pointed to statements by President Trump regarding his intent to eliminate the EPA, along with actions and statements by Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to lead the EPA who routinely put the interests of polluters above public health and environmental impacts.

The Administration’s public statements make apparent that it intends to curtail environmental enforcement by the EPA, on whose behalf this case was brought. Speaking about the EPA as a candidate during a March 2016 presidential debate, President Trump promised “to get rid of it in almost every form.” After the election, then-President-elect Trump stated, “Environmental protection, what they do is a disgrace.”

As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt dismantled the environmental enforcement unit in his home state. He describes himself in his official state website biography as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Pruitt also told The Oklahoman newspaper in April 2015 that “regulation through litigation is wrong in my view.”

“For anyone wondering how the new Administration and its cabinet appointments are going to affect everyday Missourians, this is it. The Clean Air Act protects our air and keeps our families safe from dangerous pollutants like sulfur dioxide, but who will enforce the law? Jeff Sessions? Scott Pruitt? I sure hope so,” said Dr. John Kissel, a retired physician from the St. Louis area.

Sierra Club filed a motion to intervene in the federal case against Ameren. Judge Sippell granted conditional approval of that motion and gave Ameren 14 days to respond. The case is now moving into the “remedy” phase, which is estimated to take approximately 12 months.

The Rush Island coal plant is Missouri’s second-largest source of sulfur dioxide (SO2)pollution. According to the EPA, short-term exposure to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to the effects of SO2. SO2 emissions can also lead to the formation of small particles in the air. These particles may penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and cause additional health problems. 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.

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