A local environmental group is asking state regulators to deny Ameren’s request to build a new coal ash landfill next to its Labadie power plant in Franklin County, on the basis that the landfill would not comply with new federal regulations.
In a letter sent to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on Monday, the Labadie Environmental Organization said that, as currently proposed, Ameren’s planned coal ash landfill would be in violation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new coal ash rule.
The EPA finalized that rule on Friday.
According to the new federal coal ash disposal standards, any new landfill intended to store dry “coal combustion residuals” (CCRs) must be built so that its base is at least five feet above the groundwater ― or landfill owners must show that groundwater will not contact the base of the landfill, even intermittently, including during the wet season when groundwater levels are at their highest.
The same requirement will apply to new and existing “CCR surface impoundments,” or wet coal ash ponds ― but not to existing dry landfills.
In Ameren’s application for a construction permit to build a new coal ash landfill in Labadie, the company’s consultant states that the bottom of the landfill will be only two feet above the groundwater, and that the bottom of the landfill’s clay liner will likely be in intermittent contact with that subsurface water.
The following are excerpts from (1) the EPA’s new coal ash disposal rule (see pp.213-14) and (2) Ameren’s construction permit application (Appendix Z, p. 2), for you to compare for yourself (emphasis is ours):
Under §257.60(a) EPA is requiring new CCR landfills, existing and new CCR surface impoundments and all lateral expansions to be constructed with a base that is located no less than 141.52 meters (five feet) above the uppermost aquifer, or to demonstrate that there will not be an intermittent, recurring, or sustained hydraulic connection between any portion of the base of the CCR unit and the uppermost aquifer due to normal fluctuations in groundwater elevations (including groundwater elevations during the wet season). Existing surface impoundments that fail to achieve this location criteria standard must close. New CCR landfills, new CCR surface impoundments and all lateral expansions of existing and new CCR landfills and CCR surface impoundments cannot be constructed unless they meet one of these two standards.
Ameren construction permit application, appendix Z:
The lowest point of the base of the clay liner for the cells will be at el. 466, which is 2 feet above the "natural water table" as defined in the following section. The bottom of the clay liner in the lowest sumps will probably be in intermittent contact with the ground water.
Ameren defines the “natural water table” as the average groundwater level.
Patricia Schuba directs the Labadie Environmental Organization, which has two ongoing lawsuits trying to block construction of Ameren’s landfill. "DNR has the opportunity ― and I believe the responsibility ― to take the new regulations and apply them to any new landfills," Schuba said.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources is currently reviewing Ameren's construction permit application. A spokesperson for the state agency said its staff are also reviewing the new federal coal ash standards, to see how they will apply to Ameren’s proposed landfill in Labadie ― and to all existing and planned coal ash storage sites in Missouri.
Officially, the new federal requirements will go into effect 180 days after the rule publishes in the Federal Register which will likely happen in January. That means the requirements would kick in next summer.
But the DNR can't wait that long: the state must make its decision to approve or deny Ameren’s permit by Friday, Jan. 2.
In response to our request for comment, Missouri's largest electric utility company provided the following statement:
The 800-page rule was just issued last Friday and we are still reviewing. As we have repeatedly stated, it remains our intent to comply with all applicable state and federal requirements.
Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience