Story updated Feb. 17 with comment from Ameren Missouri — A federal judge has approved the Sierra Club's request to intervene in a Clean Air Act lawsuit between Ameren Missouri and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last month, Chief Judge Rodney Sippel ruled in U.S. District Court that Ameren violated the Clean Air Act when it installed boiler equipment at the Rush Island Power Plant in Festus in the late 2000s without acquiring special permits. The new equipment caused the plant to emit more sulfur dioxide emissions, which at high levels can cause asthma and exacerbate respiratory conditions.
Before Sippel held the first meeting Thursday to determine how Ameren should reduce air pollution, the Sierra Club's lawyers filed a motion to intervene, out of concern that the Trump administration could put the case in jeopardy.
"The Trump administration has expressed hostility towards the EPA, vowed to dismantle the agency and we feel that in order to make sure that a just conclusion is reached in this case that we need to intervene," said Andy Knott, a Sierra Club campaign representative who advocates for clean energy.
Ameren Missouri officials continue to disagree with Sippel's ruling and say they believe the court misapplied the law and ignored evidence presented at trial.
"The Rush Island Energy Center is among the most efficient plants in the country and burns some of the lowest sulfur coal available, and SO2 emissions are more than a third lower than when the projects at issue were performed many years ago," Ameren Missouri President Michael Moehn said in January, after the judge's ruling. "Air quality in and around the Rush Island facility is 64 percent below the current federal mandated level."
But the judge's ruling means the environmental organization has gained a seat at the table at Sippel's meetings to discuss Ameren's actions. The Rush Island plant is located in Jefferson County, where areas exceed the EPA's air quality standards for sulfur dioxide.
"Air quality modeling has shown that the Rush Island Power Plant is a major contributor to that problem," Knott said.
The penalty for Ameren will most likely be decided in a year. The next meeting is scheduled in April.
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