Mariel Lutz, Legislative Intern
On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. (1) On March 7, 2022, Representative Nick Schroer introduced House Resolution 3737 in the Missouri House of Representatives in light of said invasion. The resolution made the case that, given Russia’s dictatorial threat to the world, exemplified by their unprovoked war on Ukraine, the United States should sever ties with Russia.
This is a logical conclusion to draw. But how exactly is the United States connected to Russia? One way is trade, specifically, oil. Until recently, the U.S. purchased about eight percent of our imported oil from Russia. As of March 8, 2022, the U.S. government banned imports of energy products from Russia, namely oil, in light of the invasion. (4)
So, if we’re no longer buying oil from Russia, that means we need to obtain fuel, or, more accurately, energy, from another source. Rep. Schroer’s resolution suggests that the best solution to the energy shortage would be to drill for more U.S. oil, specifically by building the Keystone Pipeline. But this is the wrong conclusion to draw from this situation. Not buying Russian oil creates an energy need, and since necessity is the mother of invention, it creates an opportunity to move Missouri’s energy portfolio forward, not backward, by investing in renewable energy. Supporting the wind and solar industries would create jobs and augment Missouri’s economy, while keeping money in Missouri and out of Russia. Furthermore, solar energy benefits all Missourians by improving air and water quality via a reduction in harmful outputs from coal-based energy sources and carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
We should not be attacking such important sources of energy as renewables, yet many bills in the Missouri Legislature this session do just that.
- HB 1584 has already passed through the House and onto the Senate, a bill that seeks to punish local governments that are preparing for the future by putting an unnecessary financial burden on local governments to finance electric vehicle charging stations.
- Missourians can even benefit from renewable energy created outside our state if we stop bills like HB 1876 and HB 2005, which would make it incredibly difficult to build transmission lines in Missouri that can bring us power from renewable energy sources in other states.
- Let us pivot our efforts towards the bills that support renewable energy, of which there are several. For example, SB 824 creates a community solar pilot program and SB 820, which protects a property owner’s right to install and utilize solar panels as a source of energy and guards against potential restrictions from HOAs, has already successfully passed out of the Senate and into the House. Let’s ensure that these two bills make it to the Governor’s desk and are signed into law.
Just as war always has numerous and far-reaching effects on those involved, there are just as many reasons to feel anger and outrage over the consequences of this conflict. But the Missouri Legislature does not seem to be applying the same critical lens to the consequences of their proposed bills in the Missouri House and Senate as they are to supporting the decision to no longer buy oil from Russia. This unprovoked aggression of Russia already has or could cause multiple other negative impacts, such as increased pollution, food insecurity and loss of democracy. We encourage Missouri’s State Senators and Representatives to reflect on how a host of bills currently in the Legislature might improve or worsen such challenges. A message to the legislators: If the negative impacts facing the people of Ukraine make you sad, scared or angry, we hope you give the people of Missouri, your own constituents, the same consideration. Support bills that would help Missourians and oppose bills that would harm Missourians. Some key issues and related bills are highlighted below.
Bills Threatening Public Participation in our Democratic Process
Russia is clearly not a truly democratic nation and democracy is one of the foundational principles of America. A true democracy wants every eligible citizen to participate in the democratic process and creates the means for them to do so. Yet Missouri is at risk of no longer living up to these ideals. There is a myriad of bills in the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri Senate that threaten voting rights for Missourians and the initiative petition process. Some of these bills create even more restrictive voting laws and others make it more difficult for Missouri’s citizens to both get an initiative petition on the ballot and then to pass said petition into law.
- HB 1455 prohibits the distribution of unsolicited applications for absentee ballots by any means, despite the fact that Missouri saw increased voter engagement when absentee ballots were made more available in 2020.
- HJR 133 would require a majority of registered voters to approve constitutional amendments that arise from initiative petitions, instead of the current requirement of a majority of votes cast, but only requires a simple majority vote for constitutional amendments proposed by the General Assembly. Different rules for elected officials and citizens does not seem like a strong foundation for a democracy.
We hope Russia’s current threat not only to democracy in Ukraine, but across the globe, will spur the members of Missouri’s Legislature to reassess the value in tearing down our democratic systems instead of building them up.
Bills Impacting Our Energy Future
War does unspeakable damage not just to people, but also to the environment. Attacks on industrial facilities can lead to air and water pollution and will only be worse in a country as heavily developed as Ukraine. The longer the war goes on, the worse the environmental consequences will be. Such pollution events damage the remaining natural spaces in Ukraine and the health of the Ukrainian people. (2) Such dire consequences highlight the importance of regulatory measures that protect both people and the environment from unnecessary threats. Despite the value of protecting our natural world, there are multiple bills in the Missouri Legislature that would allow for increased pollution to damage Missouri’s citizens and prized natural landscapes. We would do well to remember that the natural resources Missouri has and the benefits they provide us with are precious and they deserve to be safeguarded against threats.
We should focus our efforts on opposing bills that would harm said resources, such as SB 918 and HB 2587, and work to ensure natural resources have all the necessary protections for the health of Missouri’s people and environment. SB 918 would weaken our hazardous waste laws by severely limiting the environmental regulatory policing capabilities of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Hazardous Waste Management Commission. HB 2587 would have widespread implications by allowing a new executive agency to waive or suspend state laws and regulations for participating businesses.
One type of industrial complex that has been targeted in Ukraine that is of special concern is nuclear sites. Chernobyl has already been taken by Russian forces and the disturbance of radioactive material, leading to increased radiation levels, has already occurred. Occupation of an historic nuclear disaster site and the associated concern demonstrates the caution that must be exercised surrounding nuclear activities, caution that is likely not being taken in the midst of a war. (2) We should exercise the same caution for nuclear activity in Missouri when our own people are the ones at risk, yet the House has continued to move HB 1684 forward, which would promote nuclear energy over cleaner renewable energy sources.
The stated purpose of HB 1684 is “to enable the construction of clean baseload electric generating plants or facilities that utilize renewable sources to produce energy”. This disregards the fact that nuclear energy is not a clean energy source, nor is “construction work in progress” (CWIP), which this bill supports, necessary to build more renewable energy sources. Nuclear reactors may not directly produce carbon dioxide emissions, however, from an environmental and community health perspective, nuclear energy is not clean. In 2008, Missouri voters passed a renewable energy standard (RES) with 66% of the statewide vote (5), which defined renewables and did not include nuclear power. Milling and mining uranium to produce nuclear power has documented negative health impacts for workers and surrounding communities.(6) Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste, and improper radioactive waste management has had devastating legacy pollution impacts on Missouri communities. For example, in North County, St. Louis, where radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project was buried in the West Lake Landfill and numerous other sites, hundreds of residents have been affected by rare forms of cancer, autoimmune diseases, birth defects, and other illnesses. (7, 8) Spent nuclear fuel is a high-level radioactive waste and safe long-term storage would be another costly proposition for Missouri.
Bills Impacting Agriculture and Food Security
Food insecurity is yet another risk of armed conflict. The food systems of Ukraine may be disrupted to the point of leaving Ukraininans hungry, but it may also have global consequences. (2) Ukraine typically exports corn, soybeans and wheat, but it is unclear how much of those products they will still export given the uncertainty regarding the war with Russia, which could lead to food insecurity at home and abroad. (2, 3) The loss of these products from the global market is causing prices for these crops to increase, but it’s also causing the price of products necessary to grow said crops to increase. The price of fertilizer, which is normally exported by Russia, has gone up because it is currently not being sold at normal rates. Such fluctuations are already being felt at home. Mark Scott, a farmer outside St. Louis said that increased crop prices might not compensate for the increased fertilizer prices. (3) All of this demonstrates the importance of a reliable agricultural system and the value of growing key crops locally. There are currently many bills that value crops such as corn and soybeans over other nutritious crops, like fruits and vegetables, and encourage their growth for fuel, not food, despite the negative impacts of biofuels on Missouri’s agricultural system.
Neither biodiesel fuels nor ethanol from corn grown at a commercial scale are true renewable energy sources, as incentives for this fuel production places pressure on producers to maximize production of crops that can be converted into plant oils. This maximization of production puts a strain on farmers (both those who produce such crops and those that do not) and on the adjacent habitats for Missouri’s flora and fauna. Maximization of production of only one or two crops on a field can also require greater chemical inputs to protect against pests and these inputs can cause environmental and public health harms as well.
The government-guaranteed market for corn ethanol and soybeans may be profitable for industrialized agriculture, but the conversion of Midwest land into heavily-subsidized corn and soybean fields can yield poor air, soil, and water quality and has resulted in the destruction of valuable habitat – all while increasing climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions. Higher crop prices decrease incentives to grow nutritious food on our valuable cropland or to promote and invest in other renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. Therefore, it is clear that incentives for these crops risks Missouri’s agricultural, human and environmental wellbeing.
Missouri imports over $38 million in preserved fruits and vegetables, over $29 million in vegetables and over $11 million in fruit and nuts (2020). (9) But there’s no need to import, because Missouri can be more self-sufficient. We have plenty of small-scale farmers who could grow more if they were given more support and many aspiring farmers eager to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables for Missouri families. Increasing Missouri fruit and vegetable production would also help local economies be more self reliant in supplying their own nutritious food. We can support said farms by passing HB 2720 and SB 1157, both of which would create a new loan program to help farms grow more fruits and vegetables, deemed “specialty crops” in Missouri. Supporting more small-scale farms who grow specialty crops will provide more nutritious food for local communities to eat and help build soil health on these farms by way of growing multiple types of crops on the same field.
There are already so many incentives for these types of crops and we’ve seen the impact of biofuel production on our environment over the last two decades. At the federal level, mandating minimal ethanol blending in commercial fuel production created an artificially high demand for corn – propping up corn prices at the expense of the environment and all of us that rely on clean air and water. Higher corn prices effectively incentivize commodity crop production. This decreases the incentives to invest in renewable energy sources or to grow fruits and vegetables that we each need for a healthy body and lifestyle. Mandates and incentives are clear price signals to the agricultural industry. Missouri is among the top ten corn producing states in the country and has responded to this signal. Growing corn is profitable. Preserving a wetland or sustainably growing spinach is not.
We know that Missourians value our agriculture. Urban and rural communities alike are increasingly seeking more fruits, vegetables, and proteins from Missouri farmers and want to see more locally-grown products in their grocery stores, restaurants, schools, and more. Tax incentives for ethanol and biodiesel, like those in HB 1695 and HB 1875, respectively, ignore the negative consequences of such tax credits. Missouri should instead support renewable energy resources, and can do so by passing SB 820 and SB 824, both of which support solar energy.
Major global conflicts are always reminders of what needs to be remedied both overseas and at home. Here in the U.S., in the great state of Missouri, we have the chance to use this moment to make things better for current and future generations. The way to do that is not by sinking money into building an oil pipeline that not only will eventually run dry, but will also make climate change worse for the children of Missouri. Neither is it by spending time and effort on making it harder for all eligible citizens of Missouri to make their voice heard with their vote. And it is certainly not by risking our human, agricultural or environmental health. It is by promoting renewable energy, protecting democracy and improving our agricultural systems, thereby safeguarding the wellbeing of Missouri’s people and environment. Representative Schroer drafted this resolution knowing it was time to make a change. We agree. But the direction we take in making said change is just as important as recognizing that we needed to make a change in the first place.
- Madeline Fitzgerald, Russia Invades Ukraine: A Timeline of the Crisis, U.S. News, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/a-timeline-of-the-russia-ukraine-conflict?slide=11 (February 25, 2022).
- Erica Sweeney, The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing an environmental crisis, and experts say it could take years to fully realize the impact, Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/russian-invasion-ukraine-experts-say-cause-environment-crisis-2022-3 (March 10, 2022).
- Jonathan Ahl, The Russian Invasion of Ukraine is Being Felt as Far away as U.S. Farm Fields, NPR, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/14/1086498831/the-russian-invasion-of-ukraine-is-being-felt-as-far-away-as-u-s-farm-fields (March 14, 2022).
- Stephanie Mercier, The Impact of the Ukraine Invasion on Global Agriculture, AgWeb, https://www.agweb.com/opinion/impact-ukraine-invasion-global-agriculture (March 8, 2022).
- 2008 General Election Results, Missouri Secretary of State, https://www.sos.mo.gov/CMSImages/ElectionResultsStatistics/AllRacesGeneralNovember2008.pdf, 23.
- Health Effects of Uranium, EPA, https://www.epa.gov/navajo-nation-uranium-cleanup/health-effects-uranium.
- St. Louis Cancer Clusters, St. Louis Rad Waste Legacy, http://www.stlradwastelegacy.com/262/.
- Shumei Y, Schmaltz CL, Gwanfogbe P, Homan S, Wilson J, Analysis of cancer incidence data in eight zip code areas around coldwater creek, 1996-2011, Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (2018), http://health.mo.gov/living/healthcondiseases/chronic/cancerinquiry/reports.php#coldwater.
- Missouri: Trade Statistics, Michigan State University – Global Edge, https://globaledge.msu.edu/states/missouri/tradestats.