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Opinion: Missouri needs climate action. Preemption stands in the way

  

Missouri is joining the ranks of many states across the country currently attempting to ban movements towards electrification at the local level. On Wednesday, the Utilities Committee for the 2021 legislative session in Missouri will hold a hearing for HB 488, prohibiting any political subdivision from restricting utility service based on the source of energy delivered. If passed, this bill would block local communities from taking action to decarbonize buildings and tap into the full potential of clean renewable energy. This bill strips local elected officials’ ability to best address the energy needs and interests of their constituents. In the interest of advancing clean energy in Missouri and supporting local control, we urge you to oppose it.

All Missourians need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a liveable climate. In a greener, healthier world, we would conserve more, use the energy we have more wisely and efficiently, and rely only on sources of energy that are clean, renewable, and leave less environmental damage in their wake. Communities all over Missouri are already taking steps in that direction. Our biggest cities in the state, Kansas City and St. Louis, have committed to 100 percent renewable energy targets. Missouri is also the home of Rock Port, the first wind-powered community in the U.S.

As Missouri’s electric grid gets greener every year, municipal leaders recognize that they need to be planning for the future now. These leaders know that efficient electric technologies have come a long way in the past 20 years. Today, electric heat pumps can heat and cool homes more efficiently and cheaply than gas or oil furnaces. Induction cookstoves heat food more efficiently, more safely, and cause less indoor air-pollution than stoves that burn methane gas. In fact, installing fully electric systems in homes and commercial buildings now makes financial sense for owners in almost all new construction.

Meanwhile, the urgency of switching off dirty and dangerous fuels such as methane gas has only intensified as each year flooding in the state has intensified, destroying property, and damaging our important harvests.

The benefits of decarbonizing buildings coupled with the urgency of climate change have convinced many localities to explore the tools at their disposal — including ordinances and building codes — to make sure that the homes and office buildings of tomorrow don’t set us up with the same problems that plague yesterday’s buildings: the environmental, health, and consumer hazards of directly combusting fossil fuels in our homes and businesses for heating, cooling and cooking.

Local action to take control of a community’s energy future and the widespread recognition that we can power our society with 100 percent renewable sources have put the fossil fuel industry on the defensive. The gas industry is pushing versions of this preemption bill all around the country. HB 488 is part of a coordinated effort by the gas industry and large utility companies to keep Missouri hooked on methane gas and hamper back Missouri’s transition to clean renewable energy.

If passed, this bill would slow down the deployment of clean energy technologies, prevent localities from leading the way on building decarbonization, and keep Missourians hooked on fossil fuels — even if there is strong local support for climate action and clean energy.

Our cities, counties, and towns need a range of tools to prepare their locality for the future. HB 488 would take away some of those tools by revoking local decision-makers’ ability to restrict the use of fossil fuels such as methane gas in our homes and businesses. This bill would completely undo every local energy incentive program.

We urge the members of the Utilities Committee to choose a path that gives Missourians a resounding say in how we power our homes, businesses, and communities. Our local decision-makers know how to best meet the needs of their residents and should have the authority to pass policies that reflect and act on their community’s interests, needs, and values. When states block communities from passing their own laws, they silence local democracy and hurt community health and the environment.