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Health, Science, Environment

Coalition for the Environment: still growing at 40

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 21, 2009 - In 1969, Missourians faced major environmental problems: dirty streams, polluted air, radioactive waste contamination and losses of open space.

A group of Missouri civic leaders recognized a need for an organization focused strictly on these pressing environmental needs and decided to form the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Founders included Leo Drey, a tree farmer; Barry Commoner, a plant physiologist at Washington University; Lewis Green, an environmental lawyer, and others.

"The coalition was one of the first groups of its kind in the country," says coalition board president David Lobbig. "And for 40 years, the coalition has educated the public, watchdogged government and industry and litigated as necessary in the environment's defense. The coalition continues to fight for clean water and air, the protection of public space, and the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency to combat climate change."

Recognizing the need to occasionally carry a proverbial big stick, Leo Drey was quoted in 1994 in The Riverfront Times as saying "Legal action isn't something [the coalition] shies away from. We've established a few precedents. ... People think twice before doing something."

Drey not only co-founded the coalition, but his and wife Kay's donation of 146,000 acres of working forest in 2005 to a nonprofit foundation for timber production, preservation and recreation was the largest gift (valued at $180 million) of its kind in Missouri history. The result, Pioneer Forest, is a sustainably harvested Ozark forest that provides wildlife habitat, forest products and an intact ecosystem.

Continuing to operate under the model of grassroots citizen action, watchdogging and litigation, Leo and Kay Drey still actively support the coalition and its work. In fact, the coalition is one of the only state-based, independent, membership-supported environmental organizations in Missouri.

Following these precedents, the coalition is tackling some of the most pressing environmental challenges today: transitioning Missouri's coal-based portfolio to clean, renewable sources of power; bringing Missouri up to Clean Water Act Standards, and protecting open space.

Here's a look at 40 years of work by the Missouri Coalition for the Environment

1976

  • The Coalition successfully leads a statewide campaign to prevent utility companies from an unfair rate scheme known as Construction Work in Progress (CWIP). This No-CWIP ballot initiative passes with a 2-to-1 margin.

1978

  • The coalition, as part of the Missouri Wilderness Coalition, begins effort to pass legislation establishing Bell Mountain, Rockpile Mountain, Devil's Background and Piney Creek as wilderness areas. It was successfully enacted two years hence.

1984

  • The coalition helps draft the Missouri State Superfund Law.

1990

  • The Missouri Solid Waste Law, banning dangerous and/or easily recyclable materials from landfills and providing funds and other incentives for recycling, is drafted and passed with the help of the coalition.

1998

  • The coalition and the Sierra Club file a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce clean air regulations in the St. Louis area. St. Louis had failed to meet the federal standards for ozone and smog since 1978. In 2002, the coalition and the Sierra Club win the four-year battle, ensuring that the region will be brought into compliance with national standards.

2001

  • The coalition organized efforts to protect a key provision of the Clean Air Act that requires utilities to install modern emission control technology when old power plants are modified.

2002

  • The coalition joined forces with Environmental Defense to preserve 18,000 acres of wetland along the Mississippi River in southern Missouri by convincing the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to turn down a certification for the massive levee proposal, the St. John's Bayou/New Madrid Floodway project. In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' heavily flawed proposal was tabled and a new environmental impact statement ordered.

2004

  • The coalition reaches a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that requires a major overhaul of the state's water quality standards, including new protections for 16,000 miles of streams and for the Current, Jacks Fork and Eleven Point rivers. Previously, more than 90 percent of the state's surface waters were not required to be clean enough to be considered safe for recreational use.

2008

  • The coalition helped put Proposition C - the Missouri Clean Energy Initiative - on the ballot and worked to inform Missouri voters on the importance of its passage. With a 2-to-1 margin, Missouri voters approved the measure that requires utilities to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021.
  • A coalition lawsuit requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a new standard for the amount of the toxic metal lead allowed in air. The new standard is 10 times more protective of public health than the one that it replaces.
  • The Missouri Department of Natural Resources responded to the coalition's legal efforts by beginning to implement a long-neglected but critical provision in the Clean Water Act, known as 'anti-degradation,' that will help keep cleaner streams clean.
  • The coalition persuades the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to require Ameren to conduct additional studies of environmental impacts for the re-licensing of the Taum Sauk pumped storage project that collapsed in 2005, destroying Johnson's Shut-ins State Park.

Learn more about joining thecoalition at www.moenviron.org/SupportUs.asp .

Erin Noble is energy policy and outreach coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

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