WU law clinic helps to fight proposed coal ash landfill
The Washington University community has taken a leading role in opposition to the creation of a coal ash landfill in Labadie, Mo.
The Washington University Law School’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic is representing the Labadie Environmental Organization (LEO) in its fight against construction of the landfill by Ameren, the primary electricity supplier in the region.
Students are also involved through groups like Green Action and have been lobbying, turning out to public hearings, petitioning and giving testimony against the landfill.
The landfill would collect coal ash from Ameren’s Labadie plant. Experts fear that the coal ash could enter the water supply if there is heavy flooding, since the landfill is slated to be built on a flood plain.
A 2010 report by Earth and Planetary Sciences professor Robert Criss found that there have been frequent heavy floods in the lower portion of the Missouri River, where the landfill has been proposed, since 1929.
“They are concerned that it is not a safe site to place this waste and that it would have a detrimental effect on their community,” said Maxine Lipiles, co-director of the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic and Senior Lecturer in the law school.
Ameren has plans to prevent this water contamination and argues that the coal ash landfill would not cause any environmental damage.
The company plans to build a wall around the landfill to prevent flood water—up to three feet more than resulted from the 1993 floods—from coming in contact with the coal ash.
Mike Menne, Ameren’s Vice President of Environmental Services, said that using the landfill would actually be better than the current system of wet storage, in which the company dumps coal residue into ash ponds where the coal ash sinks to the bottom.
“We consider the design of the new facility to be state of the art,” Menne said. “This facility is far more protective of public health and the environment. It is an improvement.”
According to Menne, wet storage poses a greater risk than the coal ash landfill, in which the coal ash would be compressed into a concrete-like material, difficult for floodwater to wash away.
“We don’t think there is the potential for this to get downstream, but even if there is, there would be no risk to the drinking water supplies,” Menne said.
He says that the new landfill will meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements.
Senior and former Green Action President Peter Murrey said he was impressed by the involvement of the student body and the law school in this issue.
“I think it’s a really good thing that members of the law school are getting involved [in] this. It also speaks measures of the integrity of the student body that we’re concerned with the health of the region and that we’re not just concerned with what is cheapest or what is easiest for Wash. U.,” said Murrey.
According to Murrey, the landfill controversy should be a sign that the University should change its energy habits.
“As a university that is dependent on coal, we are in many ways responsible for this landfill being put in, so Wash. U. needs to seriously evaluate our energy choices because if we continue to rely on coal, things like Labadie will only continue to happen,” he said.
Franklin County, where the landfill would be located, does not currently permit landfills. Before Ameren can build the landfill, it will need the county to change its zoning requirements.
If such an ordinance is passed, Ameren hopes to open the landfill in 2014.
Ameren is a major gas and electricity provider for Missouri and Illinois.