Clean-energy resolution a first in state

Resolution to be discussed at work session this summer

By Gloria Lloyd

The Mehlville Board of Education became the first school board in Missouri to consider a resolution urging a utility to phase out coal in favor of clean energy last week, but members took no action on the measure.

Instead, the board will schedule a work session during a board meeting this summer where interested parties — the local citizens’ group Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW, Ameren Missouri and the Sierra Club — discuss issues surrounding the Meramec Energy Center, Ameren’s coal-fired plant in Oakville.

The coal plant, built in 1953, is near Rogers Elementary School, which was completed in 1991. Former Mehlville school board members have written government officials with their concerns about the elementary school’s location near the plant and its effect on the health of the district’s children.

The resolution, which was written by CLAW, urges Ameren to phase out coal plants and move toward renewable energy sources. CLAW opposes Ameren’s proposal for a coal-ash landfill at Meramec.

Only one board member, Vice President Venki Palamand, said he was prepared to vote in favor of the resolution at the May 7 meeting.

Although board member Larry Felton had asked that the resolution be put on the agenda, he said he saw the resolution as a chance to discuss the issue rather than an outright endorsement of the resolution itself.

Representatives of Ameren attended the meeting and strongly urged the board not to pass the resolution, citing the company’s support of renewable energy initiatives.

“In fact, Ameren Missouri supports renewable energy resources and has for over 100 years, all the way back to the historic Keokuk Energy Center,” Ameren Vice President of External Affairs and Communications Warren Wood told the board. “We share a desire for cleaner air and we support a transition to a more diverse and cleaner energy resource mix, but in a responsible manner that does not hit our customers with dramatic increases in their electric bill, especially our low-income customers.”

In addition to Wood, seven citizens spoke both for and against the resolution, with supporters framing it as an urgent health and environmental issue and opponents contending that the resolution is unrealistic because without coal, Ameren ratepayers’ utility costs would drastically increase.

“You each took an oath to protect and serve,” resident Donna Seidel told the board. “Passing this resolution does just that. It demonstrates your caring, it leads by example … Passing this good-faith resolution doesn’t cost you anything, but its value is immeasurable. It puts less money into the pockets of utilities and more money into our classrooms. Be the pioneers of St. Louis County.”

“Just having Ameren switch over to wind and solar is not economical and feasible for the community as a whole,” said Alan Leaderbrand, Lemay Township Republican committeeman.

CLAW member David Factor, however, said that Ameren is “one accident away” from a disaster along the lines of recent coal-ash and chemical spills in North Carolina and West Virginia.

“Clean environment matters,” he said. “We have a responsibility to each other and to those around our planet to do our part.”