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Ameren Mo. defends EPA charges

January 18, 2011 at 9:08 a.m. | Updated January 18, 2011 at 9:08 a.m.
FULTON SUN file photo: Ameren Missouri's Callaway Nuclear Plant located in Callaway County.

Fear that the Obama Administration will use its regulatory muscle against coal-fired power plants has pushed rural electric cooperatives and city-owned power plants around Missouri to team up with Ameren Missouri in seeking an early site permit for a second nuclear reactor at the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant.

The vast majority of electrical power generation plants in Missouri operated by cooperatives and municipal power plants are coal fired. Ameren Missouri also generates most of its power by coal-fired plants. About 20 percent of its electrical power comes from the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant in Callaway County near Reform.

Fear of federal harassment of coal-fired plants increased last week when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a barrage of lawsuits against coal-fired power generating plants.

One of the lawsuits was filed in Missouri against Ameren Missouri for alleged Clean Air Act violations at the utility's Rush Island power plant.

Newly elected U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt is defending Ameren Missouri. Blunt sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson saying Ameren Missouri has been unjustly accused of polluting when it made improvements to the Rush Island plant that were "clearly aimed at reducing emissions."

In his letter, Blunt stated "It would not be difficult to draw the conclusion that this recent lawsuit is another backdoor method used by the EPA to broadly penalize the use of coal in the United States. To the extent that the EPA's efforts to deter the use of coal through executive fiat are furthered through the lawsuit against Ameren and its modification program at the Rush Island plant, I intend to closely examine the motives behind this legal action."

The U.S. Justice Department, acting in behalf of the EPA, last Wednesday filed suit against Ameren Missouri for alleged violations that occurred almost 10 years ago. The suit contends the utility made modifications to the plant in 2001-02 without obtaining required permits or installing "state-of-the-art" pollution controls to reduce harmful sulfur dioxide emissions.

Ameren Missouri has rejected the EPA's contention, saying the modifications did not require a permit and were routine maintenance of equipment repair and replacement. Ameren said it has significantly reduced sulfur dioxide emissions since 1990, including the Rush Island plant.

Ameren Missouri contends all of the projects cited by the EPA were maintenance improvements that did not cause emissions to increase, including modification projects to switch plants to low-sulfur coal, which provided environmental benefits.

The Missouri utility said the plant's overall emissions are trending down, not up, while customers' demand for electricity has increased by 50 percent since the 1990s.

Ameren Missouri has complained that the EPA's position has the potential of imposing significant costs on Ameren Missouri customers, including many in Central Missouri.

Warren L. Baxter, president and chief executive officer of Ameren Missouri, said "Many of the cited projects were actually undertaken by Ameren Missouri to expand our efforts to reduce emissions. We have cut emissions at every plant, significantly improving air quality in the region. We are disappointed that the United States Environmental Protection Agency has decided to take this action."

Ameren Missouri is considered a national leader in pollution control, reducing its mass emissions of sulfur dioxide by 61 percent and mass emissions of nitrogen oxide by 75 percent between 1990 and 2009.

Built in 1976, the 1,200-megawatt Rush Island plant is Ameren Missouri's second largest coal-fired power plant.

Arch Coal, a St. Louis-based coal mining firm, also felt the wrath of the EPA when the EPA revoked a water permit for the Missouri firm's Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County in West Virginia.

Arch Coal issued a statement saying it is "shocked and dismayed" by EPA's assault on a permit that was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "We believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future U.S. investment."

The ruling brought predicable responses from observers - praise from environmentalists and harsh words from the industry and its supporters, including many of the state's top elected officials.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called the ruling "a strong commitment to the law, the science and the principles of environmental justice."

Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said the EPA is validating that "these types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests and nearby residents' health."

Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor whose administration last year sued the EPA over its new scrutiny of mountain-top removal coal mining, called the EPA ruling "fundamentally wrong" and "a shocking display of overreach" that will cost jobs.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, said "The Spruce No. 1 permit was issued years ago and it's hard to understand how the EPA at this late stage could take such a drastic action."

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has issued a statement saying the EPA's decision to revoke a Clean Water Act permit of the Missouri firm's existing Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia is "an abuse of power that will drive away investment in future energy projects and destroy jobs."

"The EPA's rationale for revoking the Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce Fork Mine is to protect an insect that lives for a day, and which isn't even an endangered species," said William Yeatman, a CEI energy policy expert. "In this difficult economy, it is outrageous that the EPA would trade jobs for bugs, just so it can appease the President's environmental base."


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