New EPA rules could impact Oakville coal plant

Executive to lead charge on air, groundwater monitoring

By Gloria Lloyd

New federal regulations governing coal-fired power plants — along with newfound state enforcement of existing federal rules — could bring greater scrutiny to the future operations and eventual closure of Ameren Missouri’s coal plant in Oakville.

Although the full impact of the rules and their enforcement are not yet known, under the first-ever federal regulations on coal-ash ponds, announced last month by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, the Meramec Energy Center’s coal-ash ponds, some of which are unlined, will have to pass inspections for structural integrity.

Under the new EPA rules, which will be enforced by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, Ameren would also have to close or repair the ponds if they leak into groundwater.

The rules regulate how much dust can blow from coal-ash sites, which has been a concern of Oakville residents since Rogers Elementary School is next door. The rules also force utilities to publicly post testing results and set standards for how ponds must be closed down.

Ameren agrees with the EPA’s decision to regulate coal ash like household trash rather than hazardous waste, Ajay Arora, the company’s vice president of environmental services and generation resource planning, said in a statement, and has “decades of experience managing coal ash in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”

Ameren is slated to close the Oakville coal plant in 2022, possibly sooner. It is unclear what impact the new rules might have on Ameren’s plans to close the plant, but the company is “well-positioned to comply with the new rule,” Arora said. If Meramec was already closed, its coal-ash ponds would not have to meet the requirements.

In County Executive Steve Stenger’s inauguration speech last week, he singled out the radioactive waste in the burning Bridgeton landfill and the cleanup of nuclear waste at Coldwater Creek as pressing health concerns for the county.

However, on Stenger’s first day in office, he told the Call that the absence of air and groundwater monitoring of the Oakville coal plant, which is the county’s largest source of pollution, could be the environmental issue where the entire county has the most at stake.

“It’s a plant that’s very close to schools, to the local community — basically, the community was built right around that,” he said. “So I am concerned about the environment all over the county, but in particular in that particular area.”

As a councilman, Stenger wrote letters to DNR requesting groundwater monitoring around Meramec and said he was shocked by the fact that St. Louis County has no air or groundwater monitors around the plant.

“I hope to lead the charge (on air and groundwater monitoring), and I’ve spoken with many of the local residents on that issue, and I’ll stay engaged, certainly, as county executive,” he said. “And I’ll be able to be more engaged as county executive than I was as county councilman.”