Take Back St. Louis Ballot Initiative: Activists Target Peabody Energy's City Tax Breaks

by

comment
VIA FACEBOOK

Update below: Today, St. Louis activists who have regularly protested Peabody Energy with high-profile rallies are pushing forward with a new kind of action against the corporation -- one that they say has not been tried before in the city.

The coalition of groups, spearheaded by Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), plans to deliver more than 36,000 signatures to the city's election board this morning, marking the first step in the initiative petition process. If all goes according to the group's plan, voters will have the opportunity on an upcoming ballot to amend the city charter with a measure that would prohibit the city of St. Louis from granting tax incentives to companies like Peabody.

"A big part of this ballot initiative is trying to realign how the city thinks about development," MORE organizer Arielle Klagsbrun tells Daily RFT.

See also: - Peabody Holds Meeting in Wyoming: Trying to Escape St. Louis Protest? - Photos: Seven Arch Coal Protesters Lock Themselves to 500-Pound Plant Pot - Tea Partiers Hold Flash Mob Outside Peabody Energy St. Louis

Organizers are meeting at Poelker Park across from city hall today at 10 a.m. for a rally and subsequent march to hand over the petitions.

The initiative, which the backers have labeled "Take Back St. Louis," says the city "shall not grant any Public Financial Incentive to any Unsustainable Energy Producer."

The proposed "Sustainable Energy Policy" city charter amendment -- full language below -- defines "public financial incentive" as "any economic or financial incentive offered or provided by the City," including tax reductions, credits, tax increment financing and more. And "unsustainable energy producer" is defined as an entity or organization that engages primarily in mining or extraction of fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear and radioactive materials, or "other energy sources that are non-renewable."

Simply put, if this proposal successfully makes it to the ballot and voters approve it, Peabody, which is headquartered in St. Louis, would be blocked from accessing tax breaks (as would other entities that do a million dollars or more of business with Peabody).

MORE says that the city of St. Louis gave Peabody $61 million in tax breaks in 2010 (though the company has disputed that number).

"The fact that we have 36,000 signatures shows that there are 36,000 people that want to have a vote on this," Klagsbrun says.

To get on the ballot, only 22,000 signatures are required.

If the election board certifies the signatures, then the proposal will go to the city board of aldermen, which would essentially have a symbolic vote on the matter. Because the initiative is a change to city charter, it has to go directly to voters; it would presumably be on the citywide ballot in March of next year.

"This kind of an approach...hasn't been used in St. Louis, and nothing like this has been put forward nationally either," Klagsbrun says.

VIA FACEBOOK

A spokeswoman for the mayor's office tells Daily RFT that the city does not yet have a comment until it reviews the final language of the submitted proposal.

Attorneys already organizing against the measure, however, have told the Beacon and the Post-Dispatch that the initiative will likely face legal challenges and argue that the amendment is so broad it "would shut down city government" and "devastate the city..."

Critics say the language could be interpreted to even "block basic city services."

"We've had lawyers look over the petitions," Cheyenne Thomas, another organizer with the Take Back St. Louis campaign, tells Daily RFT. "We're not worried."

"The Take Back St. Louis initiative brings in the resources that we need and also allows us to use tax dollars to help sustain our land and our economy," Thomas says.

Continue for the full language of the proposed amendment and a response from Peabody.

In addition to blocking tax incentives, the amendment also calls on the mayor to "create and publish an annual and a 5-year Sustainable Energy Plan that identifies specific measures for reduction in the use of power from unsustainable energy systems in the City of St. Louis."

This component could help the city make improvements with vacant lots in north St. Louis through sustainable development projects, Thomas says.

Klagsbrun says it's not clear yet what the opposition will look like, but she adds, "It's not surprising to anybody that corporations like Peabody...would try to cling on to any money that they could."

Daily RFT left messages yesterday with a Peabody spokeswoman and will update if we hear back.

Update, 10:07 a.m.: A spokeswoman for Peabody just sent Daily RFT a response criticizing the petition:

This petition isn't about Peabody - it's about the hundreds of businesses and other organizations, large and small, that could be caught in the net of this misguided proposal if they buy electricity, oil, gasoline, natural gas or nuclear materials in any meaningful quantities. We are optimistic that, should the proposal reach voters, the citizens of St. Louis would recognize the significant damage this proposal could do to our city's reputation and its ability to attract and retain business.

She adds, "The city could clear up any back and forth about the value of the tax incentive offered to Peabody. As many have reported, it is around $4 million."

Here's the full text of the proposed charter amendment:

A new Article XXVII to the Charter of the City of St. Louis

Be it ordained by the City of St. Louis that the Charter of the City of St. Louis be amended as follows:

ARTICLE XXVII - Sustainable Energy Policy

Section 1 - Statements of Law: Rights of People

(a) Right to a Sustainable Energy Future. All residents in the City of St. Louis possess a right to a sustainable energy future, which includes, but is not limited to, the development, production, and use of energy from renewable fuel sources.

(b) Right to Establish a Sustainable Energy Policy. The residents of the City of St. Louis declare a right to establish policies to promote and support a sustainable energy future for the city. That right includes the right to make laws that: declare certain energy consumption, production and extraction activities as environmentally unsustainable; that support the ability of residents to enjoy a healthy and pleasant quality of life indefinitely; and that do not violate the rights as secured by this Charter.

Section 2 - Sustainable Energy Law

(a) The City shall not grant any Public Financial Incentive to any Unsustainable Energy Producer.

(b) The Mayor of the City of St. Louis shall create and publish an annual and a 5-year Sustainable Energy Plan that identifies specific measures for reduction in the use of power from unsustainable energy systems in the City of St. Louis. The Sustainable Energy Plans and all notes and deliberations related to the creation of the Sustainable Energy Plans shall be made available to the public. These plans shall include, without limitation:

(i) concrete opportunities for Public Financial Incentive toward Renewable Energy Producers and Sustainable Energy Initiatives;

(ii) the availability of City of St. Louis property - particularly land held by the Land Reutilization Authority and the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority - to as wide an array of individuals and groups as possible for Sustainable Energy Initiatives;

(iii) the use of locally generated energy wherever possible to achieve reductions in unsustainable energy use and waste due to inefficient transmission of electricity, with no purchasing of renewable energy credits for systems that will not provide the City with any power.

Section 3 - Definitions

(a) "City" means the City of St. Louis, including without limitation the City's offices, boards, departments, agencies, economic development authorities, the Board of Alderman, the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, the Mayor and all entities reporting to any of them, and all other subdivisions thereof.

(b) "Public Financial Incentive" means any economic or financial incentive offered or provided by the City, in whole or in part, and includes without limitation:

(i) any tax reduction, credit, forgiveness, abatement, subsidy, or any other tax-relieving measure;

(ii) any tax increment financing or similar financial arrangement;

(iii) any monetary or non-monetary benefit related to any public fund or program;

(iv) any monetary or non-monetary benefit related to any bond, loan, or similar financial arrangement;

(v) any reduction, credit, forgiveness, abatement, subsidy, or any other relief related to any bond, loan, or similar financial arrangement; and/or

(vi) the ability to form, own, direct, and/or receive any economic or financial benefit from any special taxation district.

(c) "Unsustainable Energy Producer" means any entity or organization, no matter how organized under state, federal, or local law, that engages primarily in the mining or extraction of any of the following: fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear and radioactive materials, or other energy sources that are non-renewable. Unsustainable Energy Producer also means any entity or organization, no matter how organized under state, federal or local law, that transacts at least $1,000,000 of business per calendar year with any entity or organization described in the previous sentence.

(d) "Renewable Energy Producer" means any entity or organization, no matter how organized under state, federal, or local law, or not formally organized, that engages primarily in the production of renewable energy. An energy source is renewable if it is derived from existing flows of energy generated by on-going natural processes, including, but not limited to, energy generated from the sun, flowing water, wind flows, and geothermal heat flows.

(e) "Sustainable Energy Initiatives" include but are not limited to: solar power systems, wind turbines, urban gardens and farms, large scale commercial and residential weatherization, recycling centers, sustainable building deconstruction projects that include material reclamation, electric vehicle plug-in stations, local food coops, and other initiatives that either decrease the consumption of energy in the City of St. Louis and/or increase the amount of renewable energy produced in the City of St. Louis.

Section 4 - Enforcement

Any citizen of the City of St. Louis may enforce this Article through an action in equity in any court of competent jurisdiction. In any such action, the citizen shall be entitled to recover the costs of litigation, including, without limitation, expert and attorney's fees.

Section 5 - Severability

The provisions of this Article are severable. If any court of competent jurisdiction decides that any section, clause, sentence, part, or provision of this Article is illegal, invalid, or unconstitutional, such decision shall not affect, impair, or invalidate any of the remaining sections, clauses, sentences, parts, or provisions of the Article.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.