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The execs at AmerenUE aren’t fools. They know they’ve gotta move fast because the EPA may well decide to reclassify coal ash as hazardous waste, and that decision could come as early as this fall. If that happens, FEMA regs would prohibit Ameren from putting its next landfill for coal ash on the Missouri river floodplain at Labadie in Franklin County. Right now, Franklin County regulations forbid Ameren to do that anyway, but the County Planning and Zoning Commission is proposing amendments to the current law that would give the electric company leeway to do what it wants. And if the company manages to get the landfill done before the new EPA regs kick in, the new facility might become a magnet where coal ash from other plants could also be dumped.

The spot where Ameren wants to put that landfill is smack where the floodwaters of ’93 were. And this coal ash is some deadly stuff. The equipment required on modern smokestacks to capture pollution makes the coal ash they haul out of there full of higher concentrations than ever of arsenic, lead, chromium, and selenium, to name a few. Earth Justice reports, for example, that the EPA tests show that “arsenic, a potent carcinogen, leached from one coal ash at 1,800 times the federal safe drinking water standard.”

So I drove more than an hour from home Tuesday night to attend a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting because I live downriver from that site. One man who spoke in opposition to the landfill got cheers when he said that Franklin County should do unto those downriver what it would have people upriver do unto its own residents.

But, what the hell, I’m probably worrying over nothing. The representatives from Ameren assured the naysayers that this landfill would be built on a foundation that’s as hard as concrete, instead of the soft stuff usually used to line such sites that deteriorates pretty quickly. The concrete-like substance is even an example of recycling, since it is partly composed of coal ash.(Oh. Then when it does eventually decompose, won’t it leach toxic substances into the river? Ah, but that’s many years from now. Not to worry.)

Furthermore, Ameren will build a berm around the site to keep it safe from floodwaters. What the company hopes is that the berm or levee will prompt FEMA to “remap” that area and declare that the site itself is NOT on a hundred year floodplain. One Ameren rep who spoke was so blithe about thus sidestepping sensible regulations that he characterized this plan as “regulatory gyrations.” Then he smiled.

Maxine Lipeles, of the Washington University Law School was not amused, and got a big response from the crowd when she said:

So you’ve got a scheme that can, you know you can remap this site and so it doesn’t say a hundred year floodplain, but it doesn’t take it any farther away from the Missouri river. And there’s nothing that Franklin County or anybody can do that’s gonna tell the Missouri river not to flood that site.

I’ve heard rumors that levees don’t always yield all the protection the builders promise. Ms. Lipeles pointed that out, in fact. But surely Ameren UE is trustworthy about maintaining its facilities.

Some in the audience Tuesday night were skeptical. Some were even cynical about the motives of the Planning and Zoning Commission. But me, I came away reassured. I am, however, thinking of moving to Kansas City.