Missouri Landfill Owner’s Smelly Amendment
By Fred McKissack
Just days after the Supreme Court decided that the nexus between big money and elected officials wasn’t corrupt comes a hot mess from Missouri that shows how private interests influence public policy.
Safely nestled inside of a state senate bill designed to hold St. Louis-area landlords accountable for crime-infested properties is an amendment that would give immunity to Republic Services and its troubled landfill located in north St. Louis County.
In a state where legislators are part-timers, the amendment’s author, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, works as an environmental lawyer. His firm happens to represent Republic Services, owners of the infamous Bridgeton Landfill, as reported last week by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“The amendment would bar certain claims against abandoned or damaged properties if the property was in ‘good faith compliance’ with an order issued by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the office of the attorney general, the paper reported.
For three years, an underground fire at the landfill has smoldered, filling nearby neighborhoods with a noxious odor. The fire is within 900 to 1,000 feet of World War II-era radioactive waste at an adjacent West Lake Landfill, also owned by Republic.
If the fire were to reach the West Lake Landfill, the EPA reports that nearby residents could be exposed to an unhealthy level of radon gas. The groundwater could be affected as well.
EPA Report: http://www.epa.gov/region7/cleanup/west_lake_landfill/pdf/west-lake-etsc-observationsonemsireport.pdf
A lawyer for the state’s Department of Natural Resources says the amendment appears to shield the landfill’s owners from certain lawsuits brought on by local citizens.
Schaefer denies his amendment was written to shield Republic, and accused Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, of stirring up the argument to derail Schaefer’s bid to be attorney general. The Arizona-based Republic also denies any association with the writing of the bill.
The law’s intent is to allow neighborhood associations the ability to fight absentee landlords who do nothing to cleanup troubled properties that attract criminal activity such as drug use and prostitution. In a city known nationally for its high-crime rate, the bill is a solid step in allowing citizens to take direct action.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate.
Setting aside Schaefer’s argument over political maneuvering, how is it that Schaefer didn’t comprehend how his writing an amendment to a law that could affect a client would be seen as a political fix?
Apparently, in the Show-Me State, the state legislators seem just fine working over the people rather than for the people, as Post-Dispatch columnist Deborah Peterson righteously points out.
“Republic or no Republic, protecting polluters is not what citizens expect from their state Legislature, although it has a record of doing just that,” she writes. “State lawmakers passed a bill last year giving special legal protection to the Doe Run Co. by limiting damages to $2.5 million each in lawsuits related to lead exposure from mining sites the company owned in St. Francois County.”
If this bill becomes law, with the Republic Services amendment, it will be just one more example of how corporations are wielding their power in statehouses around the country—to the detriment of citizens and the environment.