St. Louisans for Sustainability recently drew up a ballot initiative that will divest the City of St. Louis from the fossil fuel industry and assert citizens’ right to a sustainable energy future.
Don’t take the initiative for face value—it is not just a ploy for environmentalists to promote a green agenda; it also encourages the growth of community given the tax money/revenue currently allocated for comparatively massive fossil fuel corporations would be reinvested into small business and responsible development. The initiative serves as a replicable example for other cities to set themselves up for a clean and localized economy.
St. Louis County residents should support the passing of the initiative and adopt a similar one for our communities, especially given the impact these fossil fuel corporations have on our livelihoods.
Undoubtedly, St. Louis is intertwined with the coal industry. St. Louis receives nearly all of its energy from coal-fired power plants run by Ameren.
In addition, there are five coal corporations located within the city and county, including Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company. In 2010, the St. Louis Development Corporation gave Peabody a tax break of more than $60 million to keep them in the city, including a $2 million exemption on their schools tax. The SLDC is now considering giving Peabody even more taxpayer money—a $500,000 forgivable loan under the claim that it will stimulate small business through office renovations. That is a lot of money that could have been spent on educating our youth instead of helping a billion dollar company.
Some opponents would argue that these big businesses provide jobs within our communities. However, given that the companies are solely headquartered in St. Louis and do not operate in the state otherwise, the jobs supplied are a relative few; Peabody employs just more than 500 high-paying white-collar jobs.
What this initiative seeks to do is employ St. Louis workers by setting up projects in areas that need attention, both socially and economically (i.e. impoverished neighborhoods). If passed, the city could responsibly fund projects that would transform an empty lot into a solar array or a dusty yard into a fertile urban garden, both via communal hands. Also, we could increase the efficiency of our buildings through weatherization programs so that the occupants will pay less in electricity billings; the initiative is worded so that an array of sustainable projects could be funded.
Competition in St. Louis' energy market is crucial given the 84 percent profit loss that Peabody recorded in the third quarter of this year; we cannot build ourselves around a dying industry. In the end, the initiative keeps St. Louis tax money in St. Louis in order to stimulate a truly constructive community that benefits a common plenty versus the current “corporations will save us” mantra that helps a few spend revenue elsewhere.
These fossil fuel companies have a much bigger impact on our community than just taking public money; they pollute our air and water. The Ameren plant in Labadie, MO, 15 miles from my house in Wildwood, is the 22nd largest CO2 emitter in the country and 4th in terms of mercury emissions. According to the Clean Air Task Force, 110 deaths stem from the Ameren plant, 180 heart attacks, and 1,900 asthma attacks, 120 which are bad enough to send the victim to the hospital; all of these statistics are annually attributed to the plant. In 19 years of operation, the Labadie Power Station Bottom Ash Pong has leaked out over 350 million gallons of coal by-product water in the ground and creek, which then leads to the Missouri River. Ameren doesn’t want the polluting to end there: the company is vigorously seeking the approval of a 400-acre coal ash landfill that will be implanted on the Missouri River floodplain within the 100-year flood zone. Given the increased chance of flooding occurring due to climate change—an occurrence largely perpetuated by the coal industry— it is inevitable that the proposed site would be flooded and will leak trace metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic and selenium into Missouri water. The citizens of Labadie have recognized that they landfill site does not align with the community’s interests and well-being so they continually fight it through the Labadie Environmental Organization. If this initiative were applied to their town, it would be recognized that the local government, and ultimately the taxpayers themselves, do not support the harmful actions perpetrated on the affected community, an embedded character trait of the fossil fuel industry.
If put on the ballot and voted through by St. Louis residents, this initiative will serve as a replicable example for other cities on how to produce a strong independent and local economy through sustainable practices. The goal for signatures needed to be placed on the April 2013 city ballot tops 35,000—the legally recognized number is 22,000 but the opposing sides meticulously sort through all the signatures, verifying whether they are registered to vote within city limits and are filled out correctly and meet all of the standards.
It is a mighty task at hand but it is one that is growing from the roots of our communities: its citizenry. Those of us canvassing for it see it as a possibility for St. Louis to be a beacon for future generations on how to build and how to thrive; no other city has adopted something like it. It will take money that is currently benefittng a few and reinvest it into a growing economic sector, a sector that preaches renewability over consumption. It will transform over 10,000 vacant lots in St. Louis into productive land as it employs neighborhood residents.
How do these actions compare to what the coal industry is currently doing in our community?
If your values do not agree with the fossil fuel industry's, volunteer to canvass for the ballot initiative in St. Louis or push for a similar one in your community.