IEC Wins Victory in Missouri Court of Appeals in Coal Ash Landfill Case; Grants Support Ongoing Work

Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic students and faculty have won a major victory in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, in an effort to block a proposed coal ash landfill. The court ruled 2-1 in favor of the IEC’s clients—the Labadie Environmental Organization and 11 individuals who live near Ameren’s Labadie power plant. The IEC’s clients are concerned about the proposed landfill’s location in the Missouri River flood plain and possible groundwater contamination.

The case challenges Franklin County’s 2011 adoption of zoning amendments to facilitate Ameren’s proposed coal ash landfill next to the Labadie plant. The court ruled that the trial judge improperly dismissed the IEC’s claim that Franklin County did not hold a valid public hearing prior to the county’s adoption of the zoning amendments.

Rather than remanding the case for the trial court to resolve that claim on the merits, however, the Appeals Court transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court “because of the general interest of the question posed by this case.” Each of the three judges on the panel wrote an opinion [view].

Maxine Lipeles, senior lecturer in law and IEC co-director, notes that the case has involved an all-out effort on behalf of the clinic while providing strong professional practice opportunities for students.  

“Numerous law students and student consultants worked on this case—from preparing for the hearings, participating in the hearings, arguing the motion to dismiss, briefing the merits in the trial court, perfecting the appeal, preparing the record on appeal, and briefing the appeal,” Lipeles says.

“The IEC’s unique interdisciplinary structure, with law students working together with engineering, science, policy, medical, and public health students, makes the clinic well-suited to address such complex issues,” she adds.

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Grants Support IEC’s Work 

In related news, the IEC has received grants from several funding agencies to support the clinic’s efforts on behalf of its clients to force coal power plants to retire or add modern pollution control equipment.

The Energy Foundation awarded a $50,000 matching grant, and to date the clinic has raised $35,000 toward its match requirement—a $30,000 grant from the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and a $5,000 grant from the 2032 Trust, a Rockefeller Family Fund donor-advised fund.

The clinic also received $25,000 from the Changing Horizons Fund, another Rockefeller Family Fund donor-advised fund. The Changing Horizons Fund is particularly interested in the Mississippi River watershed. Three of Ameren Missouri’s coal-fired power plants discharge waste water into the Mississippi River, and the company’s Labadie Plant and Callaway Nuclear Plant discharge into the Missouri River, which flows into the Mississippi. Additionally, the coal plants store toxic coal ash in landfills along the rivers. The Changing Horizons Fund also awarded the IEC $30,000 last year.

“There are a lot of laws and regulations on the books that, if fully implemented, would force plants to upgrade or retire,” Lipeles explains. “In addition, some recently adopted requirements are still in the process of being implemented.”

One example of the latter is sulfur dioxide (SO2), an air pollutant that is particularly harmful to children, the elderly, and asthmatics. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the national air quality standard for SO2 in 2010 upon determining that the old standard did not adequately protect public health, Lipeles says. Missouri contains two of the 29 areas across the nation that do not meet the new standard, and state officials are developing plans to reduce SO2 emissions here.

Summer 2014