UPDATED: Mehlville board unanimously rejects anti-coal resolution

Some members express support for clean energy

By Gloria Lloyd

After listening to a debate between representatives of Ameren and the Sierra Club Thursday night, the Mehlville Board of Education unanimously rejected the Sierra Club’s anti-coal resolution.

If the Mehlville board had approved the resolution, it would have been one of the first school boards in the country and the first elected body in Missouri to sign on to the proposal, which pushes Ameren to leave behind the “devastation and destruction” of coal power plants in favor of clean energy.

Local group Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW, brought the proposal to the board in May due to the proximity of Rogers Elementary School to Ameren’s coal-fired power plant in Oakville, the Meramec Energy Center, which opened in 1953. Rogers opened in 1991.

The 7-0 denial of the resolution came despite some board members’ vocal support of clean energy — and some members indicating in the past that they would support the resolution if it came to a vote.

Although everyone on the board voted against it, some members noted that they hope Ameren closes Meramec earlier than 2022, its current slated closing date.

Board member Samantha Stormer lives near the Meramec plant, and her son attended Rogers Elementary. She noted her support for the heightened awareness that CLAW and the Sierra Club have brought to Oakville about the coal plant, but agreed with the consensus of the other members that the resolution did not fall under the purview of the board.

“I have a real problem asking a company in our own community to shut down and possibly lose 200 to 250 jobs,” she said. “That’s very hard for me.”

The strongly worded resolution, which called for Ameren to end coal production and increase its reliance on renewable energy like Kansas City Power & Light, was “not sufficient for our school board,” board member Kathleen Eardley said.

“We’re a governing body concerned about children, and this is very divisive wording — and it’s not protecting our kids,” she said.

Board Secretary Lori Trakas noted that the district built Rogers long after Meramec opened, so “it is inappropriate and somewhat disingenuous” for the environmental groups to complain about the school’s location now.

“More importantly, however, I do not believe it is appropriate for this board to consider — let alone pass — a resolution promoting the agenda of an unrelated political-action group,” she said.

Some of the members noted that in the debate, they had not heard any specific data on health and safety risks to Rogers, or the district’s next-nearest school two miles away, Point Elementary School.

“I heard that we don’t have any definitive information about the effect of this on Rogers and Point,” said board member Larry Felton, who had originally asked for the resolution to appear on the board’s agenda.

Board member Jean Pretto noted that the district currently has three solar panels held up while the district waits in line for solar rebates from Ameren and suggested that the utility could help the district with that project. The district already has solar panels installed on five schools through a leasing program with solar vendor StraightUp Solar.

“Let’s give the Public Service Commission a push and see if we can’t ask the Public Service Commission or legislators to move in the right direction — I think we need them to do that, not us,” Pretto said. “And maybe you can cut us a deal on some more solar panels.”

If hundreds of Oakville residents who have written to the Mehlville Board of Education get their wish, the board could become the first elected body in Missouri to adopt a resolution against coal energy tonight.

The board will hear presentations from Ameren Missouri, the Sierra Club and local group Clean Land, Air and Water, or CLAW, when it meets at 8 p.m. tonight — Aug. 7 — in the district’s Nottelmann Auditorium, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Local residents from CLAW brought the resolution to the board since Rogers Elementary School is close to Ameren’s Meramec Energy Center, which opened in 1953 at the intersection of the Meramec and Mississippi rivers in Oakville. The district built Rogers in 1991.

Since the board’s first discussion of the resolution in May, Ameren’s board of directors voted to close the Meramec plant in 2022, or perhaps a few years earlier, and the Sierra Club and CLAW have turned their attention to urging Ameren to close the plant sooner.

The resolution asks Ameren to completely phase out coal as an energy source and emulate Kansas City Power & Light in using more renewable forms of energy. Power & Light has taken the lead on the use of wind as a power source, according to the resolution.

Although Ameren spokesman Kent Martin said the company agrees with some aspects of the resolution — like its note on the “vibrancy and vitality” that electricity brings to everyday life and its goal of moving toward cleaner energy — the company disagrees with the resolution’s allegations on the “devastation and destruction” caused by coal-fired power plants. Besides Meramec, Ameren has three other coal plants in Missouri.

“It made some allegations about water quality and things like that, and we strongly disagree with those views,” he told the Call. “Our employees live in this community. To suggest that we don’t care about (water quality) like this resolution does is not fair. We have invested heavily to make sure our energy emissions are absolutely compliant with EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulations, and those are fully protective of human health.

“They’re not acting with the facts — in fact, they’re completely inaccurate, and we want to make sure we tell customers how we feel about that,” Martin added.

Former Mehlville board member and state legislator Jan Polizzi of Concord, who is a nurse, represented CLAW and delivered 225 letters and postcards from Oakville residents in favor of the resolution to the board at its last meeting July 24.

“Our question is: Why do we wait until 2022? They can close the plant now, or continue to profit off our health as long as they can,” Polizzi said. “Eight more years means an entire generation of students, from kindergarten to eighth grade, attending Mehlville schools with poor air quality. I call upon the Mehlville Board of Education to be examples of strong leaders for our children and pass the board resolution.”

Polizzi and fellow former Mehlville board member Tom Diehl went to Clayton last week and asked the County Council to adopt the same anti-coal resolution.

Diehl asked the front-runner candidates for the county’s top job, County Executive Charlie Dooley and 6th District Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, to take a stand against Ameren in the week before Tuesday’s primary election.

Diehl, of Oakville, told the council he had spoken with more than 100 residents of Oakville in recent weeks, who wanted to know how the council and the county executive would make sure that Ameren doesn’t “leave behind a hazardous waste site for taxpayers to clean up” when it shuts down the Meramec Energy Center.

“The people of Oakville have borne the burden of Ameren’s emissions and coal-ash spills for more than 60 years, and we should not bear the cost of maintaining a polluted waste site in our community that will harm property values,” Diehl said. “This council and the county executive has a duty to take care of all residents — not just the so-called corporate citizens.

“Before this election, we want to know where you stand.”