The fight over a coal ash landfill proposed for Labadie continues.
Environmental groups contend the proposed coal ash waste site poses serious health problems while Ameren Missouri officials vow that the operation would be safe.
This week, the Missouri Public Service Commission held a public hearing on the landfill, and more than 100 people turned out at East Central College.
Ameren is seeking a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Missouri PSC to expand the boundaries of its Labadie Energy Center for the landfill.
The PSC has still not made a decision on whether to grant approval, but the PSC staff has recommended approval with certain conditions.
Residents are mainly worried that the landfill would pose a risk to drinking water.
Labadie resident Petra Haynes said she understands that Ameren needs a place to store its waste, but a floodplain and floodway of the Missouri River is not the right location.
Toxic substances from the landfill could make their way into the Missouri River and contaminate drinking water, the residents say. Moreover, the citizens worry that the waste could get into groundwater and wells.
Haynes added that she does not think Ameren can take any precautions to make the proposed landfill site safe.
Pacific resident Susan Cunningham said she does not think Ameren is qualified to operate a coal ash landfill and that the company has shown callous disregard for communities.
The process of getting the landfill approved is political, Cunningham said, adding that she hopes the PSC will make its ruling based on health and safety factors.
Barbara Jennings of St. Louis said Ameren should invest in renewable forms of energy, not coal. One Labadie resident suggested that natural gas is a better option than coal.
There were heated moments during the public hearing such as when Festus resident Gary Kappler told an Ameren official, “You don’t seem like you’ve got respect for life.”
Warren Wood, Ameren Missouri’s vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs, responded to Kappler, saying, “I very much care about life.”
Much of the opposition is from the Labadie Environmental Organization, which has been looking into the proposed landfill for several years.
“Ameren has been cited for issues surrounding coal waste handling, yet wants expansion (for) a coal waste landfill,” said LEO President Patricia Schuba.
Coal combustion waste concentrates the heavy metals from coal such as arsenic, lead and mercury, Schuba said, adding that the materials can cause cancer and Alzheimer’s.
“Why would we ever put this near our water?” Schuba asked.
During her presentation Schuba also showed a map of wells dotting the landscape, and these could be put at risk, she said.
Ameren officials say the landfill would comply with regulations and have a liner and groundwater monitoring equipment.
“It’s common to build in a floodplain for this material,” Wood said, adding, “This landfill would comply with a host of regulations.”
The groundwater monitoring wells around the landfill would, “assure and continue to demonstrate that your water quality protection program is working,” Wood said.
The 800-acre landfill “footprint” would include access roads, groundwater monitoring equipment and the actual coal ash landfill. The actual coal ash storage would only be about 167 acres, according to Ameren.
Wood added that the Labadie landfill would also have the extra precaution of a concrete apron because it has been required by Franklin County. The landfill would also be seismically stable, he said.
Ann Schwetye of St. Louis County said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Association of State Floodplain Managers advise against building in a floodway.
John Hickey with the Sierra Club cited several cases from Ameren Illinois plants where he said the company was found to be in violation of regulations.
Moreover, Hickey said the proposed Labadie landfill is a regional issue because many people get their drinking water from the Missouri River.
Likewise, Lorin Crandall with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said many of the people at the hearing do not trust Ameren because of past actions, such as leaking coal ash ponds and “decades of violations into the Missouri River.”
But Wood said Ameren’s Labadie plant has been recognized for low emissions and low costs of energy production.
More Space Needed
Wood said the landfill is needed because the coal ash storage ponds at the power plant are reaching capacity.
Ameren wants the landfill operational by April of 2016 and hopes that it will provide enough storage space for 24 years.
Residents at the hearing were also worried about the cost of the landfill. It is expected to have a phase 1 cost of $27 million. The landfill would be built in several phases.
One person asked if electric rates would go up to pay for the landfill. Wood said there cannot be a rate case for the landfill until it is in operation. Ameren’s current rates are about 20 percent less than the national average, Wood said.
Coal combustion products consist of fly ash and bottom ash, Wood said. Bottom ash is a hard, glassy material from the bottom of the boiler. Fly ash is a fine, powdery material and is used to make concrete.
Wood said coal combustion products are the non-combustible materials in the coal. They are primarily made of calcium, iron silicon and aluminum, he said. About 50 percent of the material that comes from the Labadie Energy Center is reused, Wood said. The material that cannot be reused is disposed of.
The PSC will hold formal evidentiary hearings in Jefferson City Sept. 23-25. The PSC is a state agency that regulates investor-owned utilities.