Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Blue America Endorses Maria Chappelle-Nadal

Missouri's first congressional district-- the entire city of St. Louis and the mostly black northern suburbs-- Ferguson, Florissant, Black Jack, Spanish Lake-- is the 385th poorest congressional district of 435 nationally and the poorest in the state. It borders the second congressional district which is one of the richest in the country. MO-01 is a minority majority district (42.9% white) and MO-02 is 88.1% white. The district lines have been carefully drawn to concentrate as many likely Democratic voters into a single district and keep the second CD as Republican as possible. MO-01 has a PVI of D+28 and next door the PVI is R+8. Obama won MO-01 with 80% of the vote both times he ran. McCain won MO-02 with 53% and 4 years later Romney won it with 57%. MO-01 is poorly represented by William "Lacy" Clay (D), who provides a clear reminder of why progressive voters need to organize around fresh, new voices who will upend Capitol Hill, stiff-arm corporate interests, and take back the Democratic Party from the corporate special interests. Even without as stellar as candidate as state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, Blue America would be eager to see Clay move on to a predestined job on K Street. An eight-term incumbent he long ago sold out to big banks, payday lenders and other financial parasites that depend on Washington to look the other way while they continue preying on poor and underrepresented communities.

Like the vast majority of the members of the House Financial Services Committee, a bipartisan cesspool of jaw-dropping and grotesque corruption, Clay is, simply put, on the take. The banksters pay off the committee members to give Wall Street a nearly free hand in ripping off the country.

Clay inherited the seat from his father, Bill Clay, a widely respected St. Louis civil rights leader whose legacy the younger Clay has failed to live up to. The district includes Ferguson, where-- in addition to police brutality-- issues of economic inequality and institutional racism caused thousands of protestors, of all backgrounds and ethnicities, to march in the streets. (Not Clay, however, who did not emerge on the scene until long after it was apparent Ferguson would remain a focal point in the national conservation about race and social justice. Even then, Clay participated from a safe distance.)

Despite representing a district with high concentrations of poverty-- half of the public school students receive free and reduced lunch-- Clay has used his position in Washington to carry water for industries like rent-to-own stores, which target minorities and charge usurious interest rates for basic household appliances, such as refrigerators, ovens and washing machines. Clay actually told a room full of rent-to-own operators assembled at an industry convention, "I’ll always do my best to protect what really matters to you."

He has used his perch as ranking member of a key Financial Services subcommittee-- the one that oversees the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau-- to undermine the watchdog role envisioned by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren when she helped create the agency. No, he's not from the Warren wing of the party; he's from the pay-to-play wing. (Clay’s position on the subcommittee is yet another example of his career benefitting from nepotism-- his cousin, Rep. Maxine Waters, is ranking member for the full committee.)

In the words of respected investigative journalists Zach Carter and Ryan Grim, Clay is one of a handful of Congressional Black Caucus members who have "pushed for a host of seemingly arcane measures that would undermine Dodd-Frank’s rules on financial derivatives, the complex contracts at the heart of the 2008 meltdown."

Clay co-sponsored a measure (H.R. 1077) that would have allowed banks to put back sneaky hidden fees into their loans-- a pitfall that affected many low-income and minority borrowers. When conservative Republicans started signing onto the measure as well, Clay realized how bad the legislation was and actually withdrew his name from the list of co-sponsors, a real Patrick Murphy move. and, like Murphy, he supported legislation that would allow banks to resume trading in "credit default swaps," and pressed financial regulators to allow banks to resume trading risky "collateralized debt obligations," another toxic asset that hastened the financial meltdown.

Clay has held multiple fundraisers at the Washington offices of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals-- the industry trade group representing bill collectors-- even though a ProPublica investigation showed that bill collectors were disproportionately black consumers in his own district.

Clay’s record on reproductive rights is nothing to write home about either-- not if you're a Democrat. He voted opposite 145 of his Democratic colleagues in supporting the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, a bill making it harder for women in states with restrictive laws to get the healthcare they need-- and are legally entitled to under the Constitution. His ProgressivePunch crucial vote lifetime score is a B... and in one of the safest blue districts in the country, a district where the residents deserve a congressman with an A-- and a congressman who shows up to work; Clay has missed 700 roll call votes. Who does, he think he is, Marco Rubio? His absenteeism is 3 times worse than the average congressman. So we decided to endorse the progressive Democrat running for the seat Clay occupies, Maria Chappelle-Nadal. I asked her if she would write a guest post about the race. She said she was really tied up working on a project that is crucial for her constituents. But said she was going to be on a plane and if she could write about that project, she'd do it. The project makes the water catastrophe in Flint look like child's play. Please read and please consider contributing to Maria's grassroots congressional campaign here.

Radioactive Waste Contamination in St. Louis
by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal

Radioactive waste is a major problem in St. Louis. Usually when people reference St. Louis, one envisions the Arch, our favorite pizza spot-- Imo’s or #Ferguson. For many of us, Ferguson was the tipping point that caused residents to take a step back and reflect on the type of environment in which we chose to live. For many of us, our lives were changed for the better.

I was one of those people whose life was enriched due to the challenges we faced in 2014, that is, until I found out uranium was literally underneath thousands of homes, in creeks and tributaries and in landfills. In 2012, I decided to learn more about radioactive waste in north St. Louis County. My friend and neighbor told me about the issue a couple of years beforehand, but I did not fully grasp the scope of environmental and health ramifications of radioactive waste like I do today. I toured three areas in the newly reapportioned senate district that had radioactive waste-- specifically 48,000 tons of radioactive waste (uranium and thorium) that was illegally dumped into an unlined municipal dump. I discovered that one of the American Water intake sites-- that is responsible for supplying drinking water for all north St. Louis County residents-- is only 8 river miles downstream. During this time of study, our local NPR station had a piece on the high rates of cancer among residents in north St. Louis County. I did not know if the two issues were connected then, but certainly you can understand why it was important study, metabolize and articulate the situation. Eventually, I took an even closer look to see for myself what the areas look like and try to address the questions that lingered. Just before I took the 2012 tour, I held several meetings with environmental advocates in St. Louis and shortly thereafter, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a front page article dealing with the EPA and radioactive waste in the same area. Obviously, the stars were aligned.

While I am disappointed with the original decision of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to leave radioactive waste at the site, I was hopeful the EPA would change its mind as a part of its process to reevaluate its longstanding decision. What we are talking about is radioactive waste in our back yards and in some cases, front yards. At the time, there were news reports regarding the EPA’s plan to leave Cold War-era (Manhattan Project) radioactive waste at the West Lake landfill, one of many sites across the St. Louis area that was contaminated with Mallinckrodt Chemical Company’s processed uranium.

In 2008, the EPA announced it would leave the contaminated soil and try to contain the damage by covering the site with debris and monitoring the groundwater around the perimeter; however, this controversial decision was met with backlash from environmentalists. Congressman Russ Carnahan and a few local government entities urged federal officials to reconsider their plan. Bridgeton, Florissant, the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County all passed resolutions against the plan. I discovered Lambert International Airport, which is operated by St. Louis City, opposed the plan to remove radioactive waste because they feared birds would interrupt air traffic. But I had also discovered ways this radioactive waste removal could be contained without disruption to air traffic.

In 2011, the EPA released the findings from a supplemental study that analyzed alternative cleanup options, citing a $450 million cost to haul the waste away compared to $41 million to cap the site. The report also said that digging up the waste and hauling it away could potentially be more dangerous to the community than simply leaving the waste in the ground, where numerous underground water sources could be contaminated. While these concerns are valid, there is simply no way to predict floods, tornados or earthquakes that could irreversibly spread radioactive waste into the Missouri River and into thousands of peoples’ drinking water.

There are several thoughts that resulted from our initial discovery. What puzzles me the most is the fact there are a few sites around St. Louis where the same radioactive waste from Mallinckrodt was being cleaned up, but not at West Lake.

One of the sites I visited under remediation is near Lambert Airport along Coldwater Creek. What I saw were two above ground water treatment structures and a lined pond that contain radioactive water. I was greatly concerned because there was a plastic tube that went from these above ground structures, over the bridge where the creek is and finally into the ground. We are unaware of whether radioactive waste is going into the ground or whether there was liquid that left the ground and went into the nuclear waste. This is still a concern. As recent as the early 2000’s people-- adults and children-- played in Coldwater Creek for recreational purposes. Then, I was unaware if there was a relationship to the disproportionate rates of cancer in north St. Louis County, but it was again one of those red flags that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Next, I visited the West Lake Superfund site in Bridgeton where 48,000 tons of radioactive waste was illegally dumped. Federal regulators have put up a fence around the parameter of the landfill with neon warning signs. Someone who is unfamiliar with this issue would naturally think the property outside of the area is okay. But from what I learned and estimated, that is not the right conclusion. In fact, we should all be concerned about radioactive contaminated groundwater getting into the soil and reservoirs not within the landfill and are headed into in the direction of the Missouri River and into other areas, such as the American Water intake site, residential areas and the businesses in the area.

In 1988, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a report on West Lake that identified lower-level contamination already exists. (In lay terms, low-level radiation is equivalent to an MRI 24 hours a day.) We discovered that samples as far as 100 yards away contain radioactive waste. At the time, a senator from St. Charles said that his county purchases water from St. Louis County. There were simply too many “what-if’s.”

The cleanup of these sites I am referring to were transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers under a program created in the mid-1970s to help cleanup sites tied to the government’s atomic energy and weapons programs. The reason this is important is because the Missouri Department of Natural Resources did not oversee landfills until the early 1970’s. Meaning the time between the late 1940’s and the 1970’s, we don’t actually know where haulers dumped this radioactive waste.

After my initial findings in 2012, I filed SCR 11 and SCR 23 in 2013 and 2014.  I sponsored these resolutions to encourage Congress to transfer authority for the remediation of the West Lake Landfill radioactive wastes from the EPA to the U.S. Corps of Engineers' Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program (FUSRAP). In November of 2015, U.S. Senators Blunt and McCaskill filed Senate Bill No. S.2306. While it took three years for our congressional delegation to move on this very critical issue, I am grateful that Bridgeton and Maryland Heights residents finally get some resolution and attention from Congress.

#Ferguson taught me silence is violence. Unfortunately, for decades, there were too many people who were willing to remain silent as radioactive waste migrated very easily, due to the way it was processed, into parks and tributaries where children play.

I learned there is a direct correlation between the radioactive waste and the cancer and autoimmune diseases in north St. Louis County. The stories I hear are very hard to carry without having your heart sink. This is one of the reasons why I have chosen to dedicate most of my time to raising awareness about such an important issue.

There is another concern all should be aware of-- the numerous retired landfills where people live and raise families atop. Again, families are getting sick and wondering why this is happening. Again, it is not their fault, but the burden of our federal government. There is a former landfill in north St. Louis City near where my father lived. There are retired landfills in unincorporated areas of St. Louis County and well-established municipalities too.

The narratives I have heard include a 16-year-old who died due to testicular cancer. He lived above an out-of-use landfill that has never been tested with gamma, alpha or beta monitoring devices. Across the street from him, a 19-year old girl died of a brain tumor. There are a number of people that have gotten and died from brain tumors and brain cancer or have become victim to a number of autoimmune diseases. Appendix cancer typically occurs in 1 person out of every million. In north St. Louis County within a population of 120,000 people, there are over 50 cases. The St. Louis County Board of Elections is directly above a landfill. Nine former employees have died of cancer in 10 years.

Additionally, there are women who have had multiple miscarriages or are altogether unable to have children. Hundreds of people have had multiple cancers, some who have had breast cancer multiple times. The stories of St. Louis residents that have lost their entire livelihoods through no fault of their own is overwhelmingly tragic.

St. Louis has a severe healthcare crisis that has existed for a very long time.  And, there are many who chose to stay silent anyway.

In the Missouri Legislature, there are pending attempts to undermine the work of Attorney General Chris Koster and the efforts of several private citizens who are trying to raise awareness about the radioactive waste that exists in the entire St. Louis region.

As long as people are getting sick and dying, I will be fighting this terrible legislation and also forcing the federal government to take responsibility for what they allowed to occur in my hometown of St. Louis.

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