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You can’t make this stuff up.  Last week I attended a talk and power point presentation by an Ameren Missouri official who tried to convince his audience that Ameren is one of the leaders in pollution control and the transition to clean energy.  He obviously didn’t know what he was talking about, and members of the audience didn’t buy his company propaganda.  And most of the people in the audience were nuns!

Fast forward to a Department of Natural Resources public hearing at Labadie Elementary School last night.  The woman running the show pointed out that they don’t usually get anyone to come to these hearings, so they weren’t prepared for 200 people.  The school janitor was kept busy bringing more folding chairs into the gym, and someone finally asked him for a sound system so we could hear the testimony of the 30 or so speakers.

I can’t say enough about Maxine Lipeles and the Wash U Law School group of students who have been guiding and providing the research for the Labadie Environmental Organization.  It was on behalf of the Sierra Club that Maxine requested the public hearing be held in Labadie.  Although LEO’s concern is the proposed 400 acre coal ash landfill next to the Missouri River, last night’s topic was air pollution.  Companies have to ask permission to pollute our air and water, and those permits have to be renewed every five years.  So it was time for Ameren to reapply.

Members of Sierra Club and the Wash U law students ripped apart the draft application Ameren has submitted to DNR, but it was the testimony of neighbors of the plant that was shocking.

One woman held up two zip lock bags of gunk that her neighbor wiped up from her patio table.  She reported on behalf of her neighbor who has lived in the same house for 40 years that something new is happening at the plant because the grey gunk that covers her patio and lawn every morning didn’t used to be there.  Several other neighbors reported similar discoloring of their buildings.  One man, who had an office in downtown Labadie, said he had to have his building power washed twice a year to keep it clean.

But the saddest stories were from people whose animals are dying.  A woman who lost several old horses this past summer explained how the toxic materials from the plant’s smokestacks enter her horses’ bodies from being inhaled, from their hooves and through their skin.  She is working with a veterinarian in Oklahoma who specializes in toxic chemicals.  She herself has had blood tests that show dangerous levels of benzene and other harmful substances in her system.

A man who said he and his wife bought property in Labadie 8 years ago in order to have a place for their horses reported burying 7 different animals in the past few years, all of them under 15 years of age.

After the hearing, several residents gathered in the back of the room comparing notes on all their dead horses, dogs, cats and goats.  The Ameren plant in Labadie is the 11th largest coal fired plant in the country and one of the worst polluters.  People in the area are finally getting together to share their experiences which is good.

But I seriously doubt the government agencies and officals who are supposed to protect the health and safety of the citizens will do anything other than shake a finger at the Ameren top brass.  Despite tons of evidence about the dangers of the coal ash landfill in a floodplain, the county planning and zoning commission voted to let Ameren build it as a permitted use as opposed to a conditional use.  A CUP would have required a more thorough application process and conditions placed on the project.  Hard to believe, but that’s the way it is.  The next step is the county commissioners, and the new Presiding Commissioner, John Griesheimer, has been a good friend of Ameren for lo, these many years.  He gets nice campaign donations from them and has one of their hardhats in his state senate office.

So what are the chances that the county commissioners will do the right thing?

Our only hope is the state DNR or the federal EPA.  The Ameren plant in Labadie was given a Notice of Violation in 2001, and their reply was that they “disagree with the standards.”  Of course, the EPA under George Bush didn’t press the matter.  Meanwhile, animals are dying near the plant and all metro St. Louis residents are breathing polluted air.   The most frustrating thing is how many folks in the danger zone vote Republican out of self interest.  They think they are saving money on taxes, but they are paying the price with their health and lives.