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Ameren : State submits Jefferson County air cleanup over EPA objections

05/28/2015 | 10:41pm US/Eastern

May 29--Despite federal regulators' concerns with a state plan to control air pollution in Jefferson County, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is submitting it anyway.

The Environmental Protection Agency must approve state plans for cleaning up air in areas that fall outside of federal guidelines. The Missouri Air Conservation Commission's blessing Thursday of a DNR plan that didn't address the agency's criticisms means the EPA could well reject it.

But that's not a bad thing, say environmentalists, for the area's biggest polluters -- Ameren Missouri's coal-fired power plants.

"If DNR puts a plan in that DNR knows is deficient, that EPA would have to reject, that process buys Ameren another year or so before they have to install pollution equipment," said John Hickey, director of the Sierra Club's Missouri chapter. "There is a winner when the DNR puts a plan in that it knows is illegal, and the winner is Ameren and the loser is the people of Jefferson County."

Sulfur dioxide emissions that cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease exceed federal limits in Jefferson County, requiring the DNR to develop a plan to bring the area into compliance.

The state environmental regulators' plan contends that the shutdown of the Doe Run lead smelter in Herculaneum, a large industrial source of sulfur dioxide, at the end of 2013 will bring the area into compliance. It doesn't propose any limits for Ameren's Rush Island power plant in southern Jefferson County, even though it emitted more sulfur dioxide than the smelter did in 2012, the last full year emissions from both are available.

But the EPA, in comments submitted to the state, criticized DNR's modeling method because it "may be underestimating the potential impacts of AmerenUE power plants."

In addition to Rush Island, Ameren also operates the Meramec plant just north of the Jefferson County border and the hulking Labadie plant 40 miles away. None of them have sulfur dioxide controls, commonly called scrubbers.

The issue, EPA says, is that the DNR is looking only at the area where the Doe Run smelter used to operate. The federal Clean Air Act requires a state agency to show that the whole area will be in compliance.

"Of key concern is that the current analysis performed and submitted by MDNR does not appear to ensure that the entire area within the nonattainment area boundary will attain the standard," EPA wrote to Wendy Vit, of DNR's air pollution control program.

The DNR, in a published response to the EPA, contends that it does show that the entire area will comply with sulfur dioxide emission limits by the federal deadline. However, that model uses actual emissions from Ameren plants, not limits set by state regulations, as the EPA recommends.

"The problem with using actuals in your attainment modeling is there's nothing that would legally require these sources to continue emitting at those levels," said Ken Miller, an environmental scientist at the Washington University Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic. "They have every right to go up, and in some cases substantially."

The EPA, for instance, pointed out that emission averages over time at Rush Island were generally higher than what the DNR used. It also had several other criticisms of the modeling methods DNR used.

EPA's concerns didn't make the Air Conservation Commission hesitate. The appointed board, after listening to DNR staff's recommendation for approval, unanimously passed the proposal.

No one asked any questions during the hearing that was webcast Thursday morning.

Reached by phone, commission chairman David Zimmerman, said he thought "due diligence has been done" and it was "up to EPA now."

Asked about EPA's concerns, he said the DNR's responses to EPA comments "pretty well covers everything."

The DNR is requiring Ameren to install monitors to measure sulfur dioxide near the Rush Island plant.

Ameren's environmental services director, Steve Whitworth, called the state action "the correct and practical approach."

"From our position, what we're trying to do is ensure that the air quality is meeting the standard by continuing to move forward with the monitoring systems to get the best available information," he said.

The DNR is also developing a plan for Missouri's other area that exceeds federal sulfur dioxide limits, in Kansas City.

There, the DNR is actually proposing that a Veolia Energy plant cut its allowed emissions by 95 percent in order to comply with the federal rules. Miller, at Washington University, said that amounted to roughly a 75 percent cut in its actual emissions, according to 2010 data. The company has been discussing either switching to natural gas or installing coal pollution controls, he said.

Hickey, at the Sierra Club, said he suspected the DNR "bowed to pressure" from Ameren, a politically mighty force in Jefferson City, in writing a weaker plan on the eastern side of the state.

"The polluting entity in Kansas City is Veolia, so it's an entity without much political power -- it's a French-based multinational," Hickey said. "One interpretation might be the DNR is willing to enforce the Clean Air Act if the polluting entity doesn't have political power."

DNR declined to make officials available for comment. Spokeswoman Steph Deidrick did not return phone calls and when asked about EPA's concerns via email, she referred a reporter to the DNR's written response to comments on the plan.

Jacob Barker -- 314-340-8291

@jacobbarker on Twitter


(c)2015 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

© Tribune Content Agency, source Regional News

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