Missouri Chapter

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The Sad Saga of House Bill 650

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

by Michael Berg, Missouri Sierra Club Organizer

Polluting businesses use their money and influence to pass terrible legislation that goes against the interest of Missourians.  Few bills demonstrate this fact more than House Bill 650.

Dubbed the “Free to Pollute Bill” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, HB 650:

-          Exempts Springfield’s City Utilities from a preliminary site investigation for a new toxic coal ash waste landfill. The Department of Natural Resources had already refused to site the landfill because of the porous karst topography in the location that City Utilities proposed.

-          Allows Confined Animal Feeding Operations (factory farms) to wait until after completing all their construction before announcing their plans to neighbors. This makes it more difficult for people stop one of these often dangerous and foul smelling operations from moving nearby.

-          Severely limits punitive damages that juries can impose against lead mining and smelting company Doe Run Resources. Doe Run has knowingly poisoned children for decades in southeast Missouri.

HB 650 passed in the spring. Then the Missouri Sierra Club mobilized nearly 1000 members and supporters to contact Governor Jay Nixon, asking him to veto the bill. To his credit, Nixon vetoed HB 650.

Unfortunately the provisions that gave special privileges to factory farms were in another bill that Nixon had to sign in order to keeps the Department of Natural Resources functioning. The same was the case with the siting exemption for City Utilities, as planned by Rep. Lincoln Hough, who behaved as though he was an employee of the Springfield utility instead of a representative of his constituents.

But the veto did preserve people’s right to hold Doe Run accountable for their actions.

This, of course, didn’t sit well with Doe Run. It used its money and its influence to convince legislators to change their votes. It even hired Rodney Hubbard, son of Representative Penny Hubbard, as a paid lobbyist. Unsurprisingly, in the veto override session, Rep. Hubbard changed her vote in order to support the company that was giving money to her son.  Despite Sierra Club members’ best efforts to contact state legislators, in the end Doe Run was able to just barely get the 109 votes it needed to override Nixon’s veto. (The veto override vote result in the House can be found here on page 33, and in the Senate it can be found here on page 30.)

Now, Doe Run owner Ira Rennert can feel secure in his $186 million mansion counting his estimated $5.5 billion, knowing that there is a cap in compensation for the brain-damaged children whose poisoned bodies helped bring him his wealth.

The legislation has passed, but the saga is not over. The Missouri Trial Lawyer Association will challenge the constitutionality of the Doe Run provision in court. The Sierra Club will continue to fight to prevent City Utilities from siting its toxic coal ash landfill in dangerous topography. Meanwhile, we need to remember who voted to protect the rich and powerful, against the interest of everyone else. Let them know that we are watching.

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