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Editorial: More data is needed to know whether Ameren's Labadie plant needs scrubbers

Editorial: More data is needed to know whether Ameren's Labadie plant needs scrubbers

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Ameren's Labadie plant

Ameren Missouri's coal-fired Labadie power plant, located along the southern bank of the Missouri River in Franklin County.

(Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com)

The Environmental Protection Agency has tentatively ruled that the air quality around the state’s biggest coal-fired energy plant is within acceptable standards, meaning owner Ameren Missouri won’t have to take expensive mitigation measures. Critics say there’s no way to know if that’s true because the air monitoring isn’t being conducted at locations where pollutants would be at their worst based on prevailing wind patterns.

The Trump administration has been on a fossil-fuel deregulation binge since taking office, so it’s not unreasonable to wonder if allegations of lax oversight could well be true. The way to find out is to conduct more thorough air-quality testing — with the involvement of independent scientists outside of both Ameren and the EPA.

The issue is whether sulfur dioxide emissions from the Labadie Energy Center in Franklin County are high enough to require Ameren to spend hundreds of millions of dollars installing pollution-control scrubbers. With that much money at stake, any utility would want the answer to be no.

Critics like the Sierra Club allege Ameren intentionally put its air monitors in places where terrain could divert measurable sulfur dioxide, instead of where prevailing winds are likely to carry the emissions. Ameren denies that, saying its methods were scientifically valid.

Industry and environmentalists routinely spar over the scientific facts regarding pollution, which is why it’s urgent to have an EPA that can be a disinterested arbiter using expertise and standards to determine independently what the situation is. Instead, President Donald Trump’s EPA has rested snugly in the pockets of industry from Day One.

Trump’s 2016 campaign touted his retrograde support for the coal industry at a time when America should be going in other directions. Trump has made no effort to hide his contempt for anti-pollution regulations in general. He put the EPA under the control of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, who has subsequently sidelined environmental experts to eviscerate regulations on clean water, emissions and other issues. The agency’s recent rollback of methane emissions standards is so onerous that even big oil companies that directly benefit are expressing reservations. In more than 50 instances nationwide, the EPA has reversed previous findings to reach conclusions that coal plants are in compliance with air-quality standards.

Ameren may turn out to be right about its air-quality readings at Labadie — but a stamp of approval from this EPA doesn’t necessarily mean that. All that environmentalists are asking for is more data, reliable and independently verified, which shouldn’t be objectionable to anyone truly interested in reducing emissions.

There will soon be a 30-day public-comment period on the EPA’s proposed conclusion that Ameren doesn’t have to install scrubbers. What’s needed is a concerted effort by environmentalists to make sure that process is flooded with the message that more information is needed before letting Ameren off the hook.

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