Ameren studying impact of new emissions standards on Oakville plant

New standards denounced as a job killer by legislators

By Gloria Lloyd

Stricter emissions standards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be the beginning of the end for coal-fired power plants, but Ameren Missouri is still studying how the new standards directly affect the future of its Oakville coal plant.

In a bid to cut nationwide carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, the EPA is heavily targeting coal-fired power plants, which are the energy source that produces the most emissions — and provides 80 percent of Missouri’s energy. Because coal is cheap, Missouri has some of the lowest electricity rates in the country.

The Meramec plant is one of Ameren’s oldest power plants and the largest source of pollution in St. Louis County.

Last year, Ameren representatives said that Meramec might eventually close, especially if the EPA imposed new standards on coal production.

“We have no immediate plans to retire the plant, although there are a lot of things potentially coming down the pike in the next several years with regard to environmental regulations,” Mark Litzinger, director of Meramec, said last year, adding that the plant is now cleaner than it has ever been.

“We don’t have a date when that will happen,” Ameren Vice President Warren Wood said last year about Meramec potentially closing. “The EPA is looking at a number of different regulations each year which are ratcheting up the cost.”

In light of the new EPA standards, Ameren Vice President of Environmental Services Michael Menne said in a statement last week that the company is transitioning to cleaner forms of energy while working to keep costs low, and it is examining the EPA’s proposal to see how it will affect that plan.

“We need to study the proposed EPA rule in detail to see how it would affect our customers, system reliability, the environment and the local economy,” he said.

Although the EPA plan would be a nationwide mandate, it sets different goals for renewable energy for each state based on current energy production. Since Missouri is one of the states that relies heavily on coal, its requirements under the law are some of the lowest among all states — instead of cutting 30 percent, Missouri will have to cut 21 percent of its carbon emissions.

That is just fine with some county residents who have been lobbying the Mehlville Board of Education and the County Council to pass a resolution urging Ameren to turn away from coal completely.

“The air we breathe and the water we drink, it’s not Democrat or Republican, it’s not black or white, it’s not conservative or liberal,” retired physician John Kissel told the council on a night that members clashed over minority work force requirements. “It affects all of us, and it especially affects our children.”

“We will be working with (the Meramec plant),” County Executive Charlie Dooley told the Call. “We saw the EPA report as well. We know the Obama administration is going to work with those entities, those corporations — it’s not going to be done overnight, we know that.

“But I think we’re going in the right direction, it does make sense — and I think Ameren’s committed to it as well,” Dooley added.

In a nationwide report issued earlier this spring by the Sierra Club, the organization singled out the Meramec plant as a “disaster waiting to happen” for its 10 unlined coal-ash ponds, which the EPA inspected in 2012 and rated as “poor.”

Still, immediately after the EPA’s June 2 announcement of the proposal and a 120-day period for open comment on the changes, Missouri legislators denounced the plan as a job killer.

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, issued a statement calling the rules President Barack Obama’s “war on affordable energy,” noting that the people who will lose their jobs from the regulations in Missouri will be “hard-working, middle-class families” who currently enjoy some of the most affordable electricity prices in the country.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, joined 39 colleagues in the U.S. Senate to write a letter to Obama urging him to withdraw the emissions standards, saying the rules come with no cost assessment and will negatively affect the entire U.S. economy, in addition to disproportionately affecting poor people who have trouble paying energy prices now and will face even higher electricity rates under the rules.

The senators pointed to a study released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, conducted by energy consulting firm IHS, that predicts that the new EPA rules could cost the country $859 billion through 2030, or $50 billion annually.

The study predicts that more than 50,000 people will lose their jobs in the Midwest from the rules.

The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a competing study that predicted that the new regulations would add more than 274,000 jobs to the American economy, as workers switch to clean-energy jobs and electricians and carpenters get more jobs related to renewable energy.

In addition to coal, Missouri gets some electricity from natural gas and nuclear power, and wind produces 1.3 percent of energy in the state.

That is a shame since northwest Missouri is ripe for more wind production, and the state ranks 13th out of the 50 states in wind resources, said Sara Edgar, Missouri organizer of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

“All of the estimates say that we could be reaching 15 to 20 percent of our energy needs by wind right now had we been investing in it,” she said. “We also have a lot of the wind supply chain located here in Missouri. So as we invest further in wind, even if it’s in other states, it does mean jobs here in Missouri.”