By Don Corrigan
(This story has been updated to add candidate Jamie Tolliver’s position on environmental issues.)
In a tough Aug. 4 primary for St. Louis County Executive, three Democrats have put the focus on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, loss of jobs, gun violence and race relations. However, that doesn’t mean environmental issues are totally off their radar.
The cleanup of radioactive contamination in North County, a legacy of the role of St. Louis in developing and manufacturing atomic bombs, has never been off their radar screens. They want the contaminated West Lake Landfill addressed as well as Coldwater Creek areas. In particular, they want to make sure the EPA follows through on its commitment to clean up West Lake.
See more environmental information and quotes from the candidates below.
“In 2008, the EPA put out a decision that they would cap the West Lake Landfill, leaving the radioactive waste in place,” said current St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. “It was clear that this decision was not acceptable to the community, and I helped them apply pressure on the EPA to reevaluate.
“Now, the EPA has decided to remove the most dangerous of the waste and will put out another Record of Decision to treat the groundwater at the site. Coldwater Creek and the spread of the radioactive waste there shows us there is no time to lose, and I hope the federal government is able to move quickly to implement this new decision at West Lake Landfill,” Page stressed.
Page said there should be accountability from those who caused the pollution in the first place. He said that taxpayers should not be stuck wit the bill and that regulators should be proactive at sites where there is known contamination.
Page is being challenged for the county top spot by Mark Mantovani, who ran for the Democratic nomination in the 2018 primary against then-incumbent Steve Stenger. He also is being opposed by Jake Zimmerman, the current county assessor.
“While there has been some progress associated with clean up, I remain very concerned about the West Lake landfill situation, said Mantovani. “I do not believe that the County should be mute on this topic, as it has been recently. People are still getting sick and too many of our leaders have turned a blind eye.”
Mantovani said a difficulty with radioactive cleanup is that it is a multi-layered governmental responsibility with federal, state and local agencies involved. Mantovani said that as County Executive, he would use all the powers of the office to bring more regional and national attention to West Lake and the region’s problems with its atomic legacy
“I believe we should at least consider the viability of relocating people who want to move out of the contaminated zones,” Mantovani said. “My approach to governance will be to hold the health and well being of our citizens as the preeminent standard by which we measure policy. Simply put, my mission is to make our region as environmentally friendly as possible.”
Zimmerman said: “I am pleased with the progress we have seen on the West Lake Landfill issue in recent years. I will be satisfied when all of the poison buried there is gone.”
All the candidates for Aug. 2 expressed frustration that the Missouri State Legislature has overruled local cities in the County and in Missouri that have tried to enact more stringent environmental regulations related to climate change issues and plastics pollution. They said lawmakers in Jefferson City should take a hint from the cities, rather than overruling them.
“I am in favor of allowing cities and metropolitan areas some degree of discretion with regard to public policy on the environment and other issues,” said Mantovani. “Of course, there are legal and constitutional barriers to some such efforts.
“Personally, I am not a fan of the use of plastic bags,” Mantovani added.
Webster Groves and University City have been stymied in their efforts to restrict the use of plastic shopping bags in groceries and retail establishments. State legislators have taaken the position that such actions are beyond their purview.
“I would like the state legislature to give St. Louis City and County more independence on enacting environmental laws,” said Page. “Environmental laws touch our community directly; they impact the air we breathe and the water we drink.
“It only makes sense that laws that impact our local community so directly should have input from our local government, and the citizens whose lives and properties are most directly affected,” Page added. “Missouri has some of the most lax environmental and gun laws in the country, and the people in the City and the County want to be able to make some of their own decisions around this. There are things we do have the authority to do, and that’s where I put my focus.”
Zimmerman said he was also in favor of more local control: “I support allowing cities and counties more authority in these areas. Laws that forbid localities from enacting tougher standards than the state mandates usually are more a product of the lobbying clout of the affected industries than of the will of the people.
As EE went to press with the story on the County Executive race, the author of this article learned about the candidacy of Jamie Tolliver in the Democratic Primary on Aug. 4. Tolliver’s position on environmental issues is noted below:
My campaign opposes the environmental racism that African Americans of the St. Louis Metropolitan area are exposed to at considerable greater risks than their Caucasian counterparts. This environmental racism contributes to stark racial disparities regarding health, economic burdens, and quality of life. These findings were published by the Washington University campus newspaper on a study conducted by the Washington University School of Law’s Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic.
According to Washing University report, “most of the city’s air pollution sources are located in neighborhoods of color, and more building demolitions — which create harmful dust that may contain asbestos and lead — occur in majority-black neighborhoods.”Construction and demolition standards of practice and bio-hazard testing should be thoroughly reviewed to determine the potential environmental harm done to neighborhoods prior to any work being performed.
My campaign supports the 100% Clean Economy Act, the federal legislation introduced by a diverse group of 150 members of Congress that would put the U.S. on a path to100% clean energy economy by 2050.