Whether the issue is excessive sulfur dioxide emissions from Ameren’s coal-fired power plants or the pernicious, polluting plastic bags that local jurisdictions have tried repeatedly to ban, American consumers and investors have got to accept that there is no cost-free, sacrifice-free way to cure the world’s environmental problems. They must not allow corporations to trot out the boogeymen of higher consumer costs and lower returns for investors to stall real change.
Corporations justify environmentally destructive practices as a response to the public outcry for lower prices. Ameren Missouri, for example, argues that the excessive sulfur dioxide emissions cited last month by a federal judge at the company’s Rush Island Energy Center cannot be addressed without passing on significant cost increases to consumers — possibly as high as $2 billion.
“Prudent investments in the system actually contribute to profits. But we must spend our limited capital wisely with customer affordability in mind,” Michael Moehn, chairman and president of Ameren Missouri, stated in a letter to this newspaper. “Ameren Missouri is particularly mindful of keeping rates low for those who can least afford it, such as seniors and those on limited incomes, while also meeting environmental requirements.”
Translation: If Missourians want to fight global warming and breathe healthy air, fine, but blame environmentalists when the poor and elderly pay the price. Moehn conveniently avoids suggesting that Ameren investors also should help pay.
Consumers weren’t the ones who chose to boost production capacity at Rush Island without obtaining the necessary federal permits, exceeding federal emissions limits in the process. A federal judge ordered the company to install expensive scrubbers at Rush Island to force emissions down. Since the original decision to boost production (and emissions) could safely be described as one of Ameren’s “prudent investments,” investors deserve to foot the bill.
The City of Edwardsville should also expect strong corporate pushback after its approval of a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags in grocery stores and retail shops. The powerful lobbying groups supported by plastic-bag manufacturers hate this idea. They hate it so much they have persuaded state legislatures across the country, including Missouri, to ban local governments from passing such laws. They reject any suggestion that plastic bags are responsible for rising pollution levels in the world’s waterways and oceans. Their primary concern isn’t the planet’s survival but rather profit margins and investor returns.
The extra cost borne by Edwardsville consumers is the part they must bear to start repairing the planet. But major corporations won’t feel the same kinds of pressure until their investors make clear that they’re willing to pay a price as well in the form of lower returns on shares if it means ensuring that environmentally destructive practices stop. We can feed the movement for planetary survival, or we can feed greed. But we can’t do both.