This past Thursday, August 18th, members of the St. Louis community came together to hold their candidates running for public office accountable for working towards a safe and permanent solution for the West Lake Landfill. I am one of the St. Louis team members of CHEJ. We have worked tirelessly all summer to help the grassroots organization Just Moms STL organize powerful, community-driven actions in order to move public officials who are responsible for the West Lake Landfill. The irony has not been lost on us that Dawn and Karen, founders of Just Moms, named simply because that’s their preferred career title description, have had to interact with the EPA and many government officials as if they were as stubborn and incoherent as young children.
We held a candidate forum. We invited every politician running for a position of power that has the potential to affect change for West Lake. A lot of politicians chose not to come, many citing that the Missouri State Fair’s Governor’s Ham Breakfast was on the same day, across the state. We had 11 candidates attend, running for local seats as city representatives, state legislation representatives, and two running for congress. We provided them with two pointed questions and three minutes to respond however they saw fit. We never handed them the microphone –– everyone in attendance of the meeting came to hear only about a West Lake solution, and keeping the mic gave us that control.
On Thursday we heard a lot of bipartisan support for a bill currently sitting in the house, HR-4100, that would transfer the EPA’s responsibility (or lack thereof) of West Lake to the Army Corps of Engineers, who across the country effectively clean up nuclear waste sites such as ours. This bill has experienced resistance in the house from politicians in the pockets of Republic Services (the company who currently owns the landfill), and from representatives who fear their own nuclear waste-sites high priority status will be jeopardized once a site as bad as West Lake comes on to the Army Corps plate. It’s been a mess at the federal level, so perhaps a state-level solution is the best– and only– way.
This event took a lot of coordination between CHEJ, Just Moms, and Missouri Coalition for the Environment. All three organizations worked together to come up with the questions, produce and edit literature, and fact-checked one another on all the information we presented at the event. We handed all this out in a booklet to everyone in attendance. One of the major successes of this handout was a candidate scorecard, which allowed the audience to write down and reflect on how the candidates responded to our questions. We used #WestLakeForum on twitter and facebook to document and share with those not at the meeting the various promises and ideas the politicians came up with. If nothing else, the community affected by the landfill now has a record of accountability for these candidates and can use this to decide how they’ll vote on November 8th.
Overall, this forum was a demonstration of the enormity with which the Bridgeton community cares for a resolution to the West Lake Landfill, and a powerful tool of documentation for the candidates vying for their support. It has been made abundantly clear that to win over the votes of their constituents, these politicians need to work together to come up with a safe and permanent solution for the residents around the West Lake Landfill.
We’ll be holding another West Lake Candidate Forum this month on August 31st. We have candidates running for seats like the U.S. Senate, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. House of Representatives R.S.V.P.ing to the event. Check out the event page if you’d like more info.
Check out photos of the event here.