DNR wants to enter lawsuit against Ameren

Thursday, January 18, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Department of Natural Resources asked a court Wednesday to let it join the state attorney general's lawsuit against Ameren Corp. over the Taum Sauk reservoir collapse, which heavily damaged a state park and injured a family of five in 2005.

Attorney General Jay Nixon's lawsuit claims the company placed profits ahead of safety at the hydroelectric plant.

The DNR last month submitted a proposed settlement offer to Ameren of more than $125 million, but department director Doyle Childers said settlement talks stalled when Nixon filed the lawsuit.

Nixon said he -- not DNR -- has legal authority in the case. He seeks unspecified damages, along with other fines and payments including compensation for local businesses affected by the accident.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste criticized DNR's involvement.

"The attorney general will make the state's arguments in court on this matter," he said. "The wasting of taxpayer dollars to hire the law firm of Amy Blunt is troubling."

Gov. Matt Blunt's sister works in the government relations department of the law firm DNR hired to help with the Taum Sauk matter.

The company already has agreed to pay federal regulators a $15 million fine for the reservoir collapse.

Relations broke down between DNR and Nixon's office last summer after it was reported that more than $19,000 was funneled from Ameren's corporate treasury into Nixon's gubernatorial campaign after Nixon launched an investigation into the company. Nixon later returned the money.

Childers said Wednesday that the agency also has concerns with the pace of the lawsuit, and because Nixon is overseeing how $5 million of that federal fine will be spent.

"We distrust the integrity of the attorney general," he said.

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