Federal Court Rules Ameren Missouri Must Install Pollution Controls

August 27, 2021: Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a 2019 District Court order requiring Ameren Missouri to install air pollution controls at its Rush Island coal-burning power plant in order to remedy Clean Air Act violations. 

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2011 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), alleging violations of the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review (NSR) provisions. The lawsuit stemmed from Ameren undertaking significant modifications at its Rush Island plant without proper permitting, and avoiding the pollution controls mandated by the Clean Air Act for new and upgraded plants. The EPA won the liability phase of the case in January 2017 when a judge found that Ameren had indeed violated the NSR requirement. Sierra Club intervened in February 2017 in order to ensure its interests were represented as the trial entered the remedy phase under President Trump. During the remedy-phase trial in April 2019, Sierra Club and the DOJ fought for scrubbers at Rush Island, and also argued that the public should not be required to bear the public health burden of Ameren’s twelve years of unlawful pollution. In response, the district court required Ameren to undertake corresponding, ton-for-ton emissions reductions at its nearby Labadie plant, so as to remedy the public health impacts of its Clean Air Act violations. 

The 8th Circuit confirmed that Ameren violated the Clean Air Act, but overturned the lower court order that would have required Ameren to fully remedy the effects of its unlawful pollution. District Court Judge Sippel ordered that Ameren must add pollution controls to its Labadie and Rush Island coal plants in his 2019 remedy order. The 8th Circuit decision means that Ameren’s Rush Island coal plant will be retrofitted with new pollution controls while the Labadie coal plant will remain one of the largest in the country without them. 

In 2020, Ameren’s Labadie coal plant was the second largest sulfur dioxide (SO2) emitter in the nation while Rush Island was the sixth largest emitter of the pollutant. Dr. Joel Schwartz, a prominent scientist at Harvard’s School of Public Health and a key expert witness for the DOJ in the case, estimated that between 2007 and 2016, the violating emissions from Rush Island alone contributed to as many as 800 premature deaths. 

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling can be found here, and you can read the official Sierra Club press release here.