We are deep in the middle of an ugly and divisive election season with two presidential candidates regularly described by polls as the most unpopular in decades. This year’s partisan advertisements and speeches are enough to turn off anyone from politics. One could be forgiven for wondering if politicians can actually work together on an urgent issue that demands attention.
That’s why the cooperative tone currently shown by Missouri’s senators and congressional representatives on the outrage of the West Lake Landfill is such a breath of fresh air. The West Lake Landfill, a landfill containing radioactive waste right next to a landfill on fire, is owned by Republic Services and is a Superfund site managed by the EPA. The health and safety concerns of the community have taken a back seat to political self-interest due to agency concerns and Republic’s political influence over elected officials.
But rather than shamefully protect Republic Services or defend the EPA’s baffling inactivity, Missouri’s congressional delegation has taken a strong stance standing up for local Bridgeton community. After the tireless work of Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, two co-founders of the group Just Moms STL, Missouri’s elected officials both hear their concerns and have acted to fix the problem. Nearly one year ago, Senators Blunt and McCaskill and Representatives Clay and Wagner introduced H.R. 4100 to transfer authority over the cleanup from the EPA to the Army Corps of Engineers, an agency trusted by the Bridgeton community because they successfully remediated similar sites in the area. Blunt and McCaskill were able to unanimously pass the bill through the Senate, an action that is practically unheard of in a gridlocked Washington. Clay and Wagner testified at a Superfund hearing one week ago, forcefully denouncing the EPA’s inactivity and giving voice to a Bridgeton community concerned by West Lake’s current impact and its potentially catastrophic effects.
While these actions aren’t enough by themselves, they are without a doubt an achievement for concerned local activists like Chapman and Nickel. The bipartisan action on the landfill absolutely speaks to its pressing nature and proves that focusing on relocation of the families affected is an issue Democrats and Republicans can get behind. In a political era where bipartisan socializing let alone action is rare, the fact that the Missouri delegation is attempting to fix the long overdue problem at West Lake is admirable.
Just Moms STL is planning on fostering this bipartisan spirit by hosting an event in Maryland Heights on August 18th called the “West Lake Candidate Forum” where Democrats and Republicans will personally tell voters their plan to address the West Lake Landfill. We can only hope that more elected officials recognize that the people of Bridgeton need this issue to be immediately addressed and resolved.
By Gregory Kolen II. Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable