Strengthening federal air pollution rules could force some of the nation's "deadliest" coal plants to upgrade their facilities or retire them, according to a report released Thursday by the environmental advocacy group Sierra Club.
In some cases, just more stringent enforcement of existing standards could force changes.
The Sierra Club report urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to use its existing pollution rules to cut down on harmful exposures from coal plants. It follows an earlier release from the Sierra Club about the 17 coal plants it says are the deadliest in America, including two in Missouri. Across the U.S., exposure to particle pollution from power plants, the environmental nonprofit found, causes 3,800 premature deaths every year.
"The Biden Administration has an opportunity to save lives, ensure the health of our communities and address the worst impacts of the climate crisis simply by strengthening and enforcing existing laws under the Clean Air Act," the Sierra Club said in its release.
Two power plants Sierra Club considers to be the most harmful are in Missouri -- Ameren Missouri's Labadie Energy Center and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.'s New Madrid plant.
Collectively, Sierra Club estimates the two plants' particulate emissions are responsible for 285 premature deaths each year. The environmental organization argues they should be equipped with better pollution controls or shut down.
Jenn DeRose, Missouri campaign representative for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a news release that Ameren and AECI won't add those controls unless the Environmental Protection Agency forces them.
"Ameren and AECI own and operate two of the deadliest coal plants in the country, yet both utilities refuse to add or operate modern pollution controls that would literally save lives," DeRose said. "That's not what a good neighbor does."
Brad Brown, a spokesman for Ameren, said he had not seen the report Thursday morning and could not immediately comment. Brown pointed to several recent solar projects Ameren has purchased or built and said the utility has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent, nitrogen oxide emissions by 55 percent percent and sulfur dioxide emissions by 65 percent compared to 2005 levels.
Ameren plans to reduce carbon emissions by 85 percent compared with 2005 levels by 2040.
Ajay Arora, chief renewable development officer for Ameren Missouri, said in a statement that the company has accelerated the pace of wind and solar development and plans to retire three fossil-fuel plants by 2030.
By investing billions of dollars in clean energy, we anticipate creating thousands of jobs, growing our solid base of carbon-free generation and supporting communities across Missouri," Arora said.
AECI's spokesman, Mark Viguet, said in a statement that the cooperative has spent more than $1.1 billion to reduce emissions in the last 30 years.
"Associated has made and will continue to make significant investments to remain compliant with all EPA regulations that apply to our operations," Viguet said.
The company says it has reduced carbon emissions by 21 percent since 2005.
The report finds Labadie would have to retrofit its units to comply with a proposed rule announced last month by the EPA that would restrict emissions of chromium, lead and nickel.
Enforcement of a proposed "good neighbor" rule could also force Labadie and New Madrid to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions to keep pollution from blowing downwind to nearby communities.
Emissions from both coal plants also contribute to regional haze. The Sierra Club, along with members of Missouri's congressional delegation, has been pushing the EPA to force Missouri to come up with a more stringent plan to address haze.
The one Missouri created under EPA's federal haze rule, which is meant to improve visibility and air quality in national parks, doesn't go far enough, Sierra Club argues.
Despite being one of the latest emitters of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, Missouri's regional haze plan "does not make any meaningful attempts to reduce the pollution that causes haze," U.S. Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver, Democrats from St. Louis and Kansas City, respectively, said in a letter to the EPA last month.
The New Madrid plant also contributes to sulfur dioxide pollution in the Bootheel that exceeds federal standards. But only a nearby aluminum smelter has been instructed to make upgrades to deal with the pollution, something Sierra Club decried late last year.
The Missouri Independent, www.missouriindependent.com, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.