I’m either five days late or 360 days early in urging you to participate in Conservation Lobby Day. I should have had the word out last Monday, if not sooner, about the Tuesday event. But since I’ve never attended before, I could only have told you that Missouri Votes Conservation, the Coalition for the Environment, and the Sierra Club annually sponsor a day when activists from all over the state converge on Jeff City to lobby for a variety of environmental causes.

One participant who has attended in past years says the three groups have vastly improved at organizing the day. I’d say they’ve gotten to be wizards at planning an affair as complex as a Rubik’s Cube. They’ve done the advance legwork of making appointments with legislators for you, and if you can get yourself unchained from your job or other responsibilities for a day, you’ll find lobbying interesting.

More than 100 activists meet to get instructions for the day.

At 6:45, those of us who carpooled from the Delmar Loop in St. Louis climbed into a van for 14 that the Coalition had rented and headed out. Bagels and cream cheese were provided. Once we arrived, we met first as a whole group to get the layout of the day. We’d been put into smaller groups that would lobby on particular issues. (At left, all the CWIP lobbyists are pictured meeting.)

Four groups of five or six people had appointments with seven or eight legislators apiece to discuss CWIP. We were also encouraged to drop in on our own rep and senator in hopes of grabbing a few minutes to talk to them. Another four groups had appointments to talk about energy efficiency. Two more met with legislators about green buildings. There was one committee slated to discuss sand and gravel mining, and another to lobby about solid waste. Three more committees met with legislators on the subject of sustainable ag, focusing mainly on local control of CAFOs. And two groups lobbied on transportation issues.

Some of those in the CWIP groups skipped the appointments because they were slated to testify at the House hearing on the bill. Though the Republicans knew it would be heavily attended, the meeting was in a small room. After the room filled, the hall outside was packed.

Though our CWIP witnesses arrived half an hour early, they found sheets of paper on all the available seats stating that they were reserved. A number of them stood around the room debating what to do, until finally one of them sat down in a reserved seat. A young woman in that row said that the seat was taken, but the activist said she didn’t see anyone taking it, so it was hers. The other witnesses then followed suit. Eventually, a legislator arrived and took the seat of the young woman who had tried to keep the seats reserved. She herself had been only a placeholder.  

Talking to lawmakers about these bills provides a much more nuanced picture than reading about what’s happening in the legislature. For starters, I visited with my rep, Ted Hoskins, a Democrat, who was leaning against voting for AmerenUE’s CWIP boondoggle. I never did manage to touch bases with my Democratic Senator, Rita Days.

After that, I stuck with my group, which spoke with Representatives and Senators who are on the committees that hear about this issue. Rep. Jeanette Mott Oxford was enthusiastic and articulate in her opposition of the bill. When we asked whether she thought the bill had a chance, she told us not to rule that out. Republicans who want this bill have quite a few Dems to take the place of Republicans who will vote against it. We didn’t manage to talk to Republican Senator Lembke himself, but we did see his staffer, who was well versed in the issue. He was concerned that the bill would hurt consumers, and he questioned us about the need for a nuclear plant. He seemed to be gathering information on where this state may find itself as far as providing adequate power in the future.

Democratic Senator Frank Barnitz cheerfully admitted to being a co-sponsor of the bill. He feels we must get away from coal-fired plants and didn’t seem overly disturbed about the dangers to consumers. Republican Senator Tom Dempsey (on the right in picture) didn’t “see a lot of promise for the bill right now” because of the lack of consumer protections.

Jill, a member of our group, told us about going to meet her Representative, Democrat Mike Colona, whom she had worked to get elected for his first term last fall. He greeted her with a big hug, but the meeting got awkward when he discovered that she was there to lobby against CWIP and she discovered that he is a co-sponsor of the bill. That possibility had not even occurred to her. Still, she said, they had a worthwhile conversation about the issue.

Pencil it in on your calendar for next year, if you’re the organized type: in early February, find out when Conservation Lobby Day is scheduled and sign up. Or you can just depend on me to remind you. I’ll announce it on this blogsite–at least a week in advance.