ST. LOUIS (CN) – The 8th Circuit backed an energy company’s effort to rebuild a mountaintop reservoir in Missouri, but added that it lacks jurisdiction to consider all elements of an environmental challenge.
The upper reservoir of the Taum Sauk hydroelectric plant, which rested on a mountaintop in the Missouri Ozarks, functioned on a “pump-back” system where water that generated electricity by flowing downhill during the day was pumped back up to the reservoir at night.
In 2005 the reservoir failed and released more than a billion gallons of water down the mountain, destroying the reservoir, leveling a portion of the forest, and sweeping away the ranger and his family, who survived. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission fined reservoir operator AmerenUE a record-breaking $15 million.
Environmental groups strongly opposed Ameren when it applied to reconstruct the reservoir in 2007, pointing out that the project falls within the largest contiguous block of wild public lands in the Midwestern state.
When the commission approved Ameren’s reconstruction request, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and the Missouri Parks Association petitioned the 8th Circuit for review. The groups said FERC’s environmental assessment failed to evaluate the effects of reconstruction under a future license, as the current one expires in 2010.
Judge Benton first nixed standing for the Missouri Parks Association, because the group had not requested a commission rehearing as required under the Federal Power Act.
The court then determined that the Missouri Coalition for the Environment retains “injury-in-fact” standing, but ruled that the relicensed operation is not a cumulative impact conferring jurisdiction.
Although the Forest Service commented that the reservoir’s operation after reconstruction fell within the scope of the project, the court pointed out that the National Environmental Policy Act does not require one agency to be subject to another’s comments.
The judges concluded that the environmental assessment passed muster and denied the environmental groups’ petition.