Tom (Yusha) Sager
The Misfit Mathematician

tom (at)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Great Rivers
Environmental Law Center

sues to protect Taum Sauk

I have received several comments on my Buehler Park article telling me that battle is over now; and it's time to move on. And, indeed, it is!

So, this week, I'll talk about a similar case. Like Buehler, this case involves parks. It also involves business and government conspiring against the public. And it involves Great Rivers Environmental Law Center standing up for people and parks, against government and business.

In the 1960s Union Electric (now AmerenUE) constructed the Taum Sauk pumped storage reservoir atop Proffit Mountain, in one of the wildest, most beautiful locations in the Ozarks.

While building the reservoir, UE was engaged in litigation over whether it was required to obtain a federal license. The Supreme Court ruled that it was, but only after the facility was built.

The Federal Power Commission (now FERC) then issued UE a license retroactively. Thus, the reservoir was built without adequate safeguards or public input, and then licensed after the fact: All very reminiscent of the Alice in Wonderland courtroom scene in which the Queen declares, "Sentence first--verdict afterwards."

Two years ago, after being filled above capacity, the reservoir collapsed through a combination of faulty construction, operator error, and pure greed. Over a billion gallons of water swept through Johnson's Shut-ins State Park rendering it unusable, causing tremendous environmental degradation, and seriously injuring a park ranger and his family.

Now history is repeating itself. FERC has authorized Ameren to rebuild the reservoir while stating that other issues could be addressed later during the forthcoming relicensing process.

However, as Great Rivers and the Missouri Parks Association contend, after Ameren spends hundreds of millions of dollars rebuilding the facility, addressing alternatives would be meaningless. It would be like waiting until a Lion's Choice or a Rib Crib had opened in Buehler Park, and then addressing the issue of whether it was legal to be there.

Last month, Great Rivers filed suit in Federal Court, claiming that FERC had failed to consider the most significant impacts of the project and that, by law, an environmental impact statement is required with an opportunity for a hearing and full public participation. As Great Rivers General Counsel, Bruce Morrison, who was also our lead attorney in the Buehler Park case, stated, “The regulatory authorities are carrying on the Taum Sauk tradition of constructing first and evaluating the impacts later.”

Pumped storage electricity generation is extremely inefficient and wasteful. Electricity, typically generated from coal, is used to pump water up the mountain to the upper storage reservoir.

Then, as the stored water is released and flows back down the mountain, it regenerates electric power. In the process approximately one third of the input electricity is lost. Pumped storage generates considerable quantities of greenhouse gases and other forms of pollution.

In addition, building (or rebuilding) such a facility requires removing large quantities of rock, sand and gravel, which silts in streams and destroys forests and wildlife.

There are many alternatives to rebuilding the Taum Sauk reservoir. Energy conservation and electricity generation from non-polluting renewable sources such as solar and wind power would be the most efficient, least polluting, and in the long run, the cheapest.

In their suit, Great Rivers and Missouri Parks are requesting a full investigation of all impacts and alternatives, before any construction permits are issued. Clearly, an investigation after the fact would be meaningless; and rebuilding without a full investigation could lead to another disaster, perhaps even worse than the reservoir collapse of two years ago.

When government and business conspire against the public good, the public needs a strong legal advocate. Missouri is very fortunate to have Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

(Tom Sager is a retired professor at the University of Missouri - Rolla. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at or at his website,