Ameren Seeks an Extra Five Years of Poisoning Your Lungs

You may not be familiar with the Illinois Pollution Control Board, but they have a lot of power to decide what goes into your lungs. They’ll hold a hearing August 1st to consider Ameren’s request to renege on a deal the company made to reduce pollution from their aging fleet of Illinois coal plants.

Back in 2006 Ameren Illinois, along with other utilities, agreed to a compromise on new mercury pollution standards for coal power plants. They would be allowed to follow a less stringent standard on lowering Mercury pollution, and in exchange for that leniency, they agreed to lower levels of other poisonous air pollutants (SO2 and NOx). Ameren helped to negotiate the agreement and celebrated it as a victory for clean air.

Six years later, Ameren has decided that they don’t like the deal anymore. They want to continue releasing the higher levels of Mercury pollution but without making the SO2 reductions on the timetable they agreed to. In other words, they want to release more of a pollutant that causes birth defects and learning disabilities in children, AND they also want to release more of a pollutant that causes asthma attacks and aggravates heart disease. It must be because they love their customers so much!

An objection filed by several environmental groups put it this way: “Ameren now wants to have its cake and eat it, too; it reaped the benefit of less stringent mercury standards for years but wants that benefit without meeting the prescribed SO2 limits.”

Ameren opted into the agreement that required reductions of SO2 in 2015 and 2017. Now, they’re proposing a five-year delay to 2020 and 2021. Those far-off dates are additionally significant because there’s no certainty that all of Ameren’s aging Illinois coal fleet will even remain in operation that long.

All of the reasons why Ameren seeks an extension for reducing SO2 (low energy prices, new federal regulation, cost of compliance, competition from natural gas) are also reasons why they may choose to retire additional plants within the next five to ten years. It’s fair to ask Ameren whether they will continue seeking extensions in an effort to run out the clock and avoid making new investments in their outdated plants before shutting them down.

If Ameren does choose to install pollution controls, there’s a good chance Illinois taxpayers will pick up part of the tab. The Coal Development Fund of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity brags of having the largest coal subsidy program of any state in the nation. Ameren has a long history of asking Illinois taxpayers to help pay for the cost of doing business, while Ameren keeps the profit for themselves. For example, Ameren received $850,000 in 2002 to reduce SO2 at their Coffeen plant.

Ameren claims poverty but they’re really making a choice about their priorities. They’re choosing to prioritize short-term profit over public safety. They’re deciding that paying stock dividends is more important than reducing the number of asthma attacks their plants cause. That reducing birth defects and learning disabilities in newborns is less important than pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into their political funds every year. That keeping outdated coal plants running for a few more years is a better option than building new clean energy sources that won’t contribute to climate change. Those choices reveal their values and priorities as a company.

Environmental groups are especially concerned about this case because it could set a precedent for other coal plant operators making the same request to delay installing pollution controls they previously agreed to.

You can let the Pollution Control Board know you want them to force Ameren to stick to their agreement at a public hearing Wednesday, August 1, 10:00am, in the Illinois Pollution Control Board Hearing Room, 1021 N. Grand Avenue East, North Entrance, Springfield. You can also submit comments as a member of the public if you can’t attend the hearing. If you’re in Chicago you can even take a bus ride to the hearing with Greenpeace and ELPC.

The decision on Ameren’s request will have a major impact on whether Illinois embraces a clean energy future. Now is the time to speak up!

© 2012 Willinois. This article is reproduced by permission of the author. All rights reserved.