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Environmental Groups: MO Bill Gives Polluters a Free Pass

Coal ash is produced when power plants burn coal, and Missouri lawmakers are trying to decide whether the state should create its own regulations for coal-ash waste. (Pixabay)
Coal ash is produced when power plants burn coal, and Missouri lawmakers are trying to decide whether the state should create its own regulations for coal-ash waste. (Pixabay)
April 11, 2018

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Environmental groups warn that a bill now in the Missouri House of Representatives would weaken the state's protections against groundwater contamination from coal ash.

Supporters of Senate Bill 917 by Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, have said the state of Missouri needs its own standards, different from the federal Environmental Protection Agency standards set in 2015, to guard against improper disposal and discharge of coal ash.

Instead, the bill gives the state Department of Natural Resources the power to establish those rules and approve its own target levels. The bill's opponents have said this would weaken and limit the DNR's authority.

Patricia Schuba, president of the Labadie Environmental Organization, said it could even allow coal plants to bypass getting permits for their coal-ash ponds.

"This bill would make it difficult to identify where the pollution is and then require cleanup of those sites," she said, "and for that reason, we - as the public - stand against it."

The bill passed the Senate and was set to be heard today in the House Utilities Committee, but the hearing was canceled. Schuba said her group is standing by to attend the next meeting to voice its opposition.

The legislation would switch monitoring for toxins to a "risk-based" style of managing contaminants. Schuba said that means leaving it up to the coal plants to decide whether it's worth their time to stop possible contamination.

"We found the pollution, it's there - and since we think nobody is going to drink it, it's not a risk," she said. "So it basically allows pollution to continue. It limits the amount of testing that's done."

The bill has the backing of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Associated Electric Co-ops, which include several major power providers in rural Missouri. It is opposed by environmental groups including the Sierra Club.

Details of SB 917 are online at senate.mo.gov.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MO