- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The city of St. Louis wants Missouri lawmakers to block a local ballot measure designed to prevent Peabody Energy and companies that do business with the coal producer from earning state tax incentives.

Mayor Francis Slay’s office pushed for language in two bills before the Legislature that would keep city voters from considering a ballot measure barring companies that engage in “unsustainable” energy production from receiving St. Louis tax incentives, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1mCOrIP ) reported Wednesday.

A scheduled early April vote on the measure in St. Louis was temporarily blocked by a judge as part of a lawsuit challenging the proposal brought by the nonprofit activist group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. The group says Peabody -the world’s largest private coal producer and one of the city’s largest employers - isn’t doing enough to promote clean energy or help prevent climate change.

Jeff Rainford, Slay’s chief of staff, called the petition “an anarchist’s dream” that “would do severe damage to the city’s economy.” The ballot measure also targets companies that do at least $1 million in business with certain energy producers from receiving city incentives.

Jeff Ordower, MORE executive director, said he initially thought Peabody was behind the state proposals. He said he’s surprised that Slay is working to keep city residents from weighing in.

“It’s a weird way to do democracy. You just venue shop,” Ordower said. “They’re spending our tax dollars to subvert democracy.”

Opponents of the ballot measure argue that the vague wording in the change to the city charter could block businesses that work with Peabody or even purchase $1 million in electricity from receiving not just tax breaks but also city services.

Rainford said the possible catastrophic repercussions for the St. Louis economy were the only reason the mayor’s office would interfere with a petition.

“People have the right to petition their government,” Rainford said. “It’s just this particular petition we don’t like.”

Staff from the mayor’s office also testified at the court hearing on a lawsuit challenging the petition. The lawsuit was filed by three residents and a law firm. Jane Dueker, a former lobbyist for Peabody who is no longer working for the company, is representing the plaintiffs in the case. The suit contends that the language defining unsustainable energy producers in the proposed charter amendment is so “intentionally arbitrary and vague” that it could cut off basic services to many businesses.

Ordower said that is not the case and that only tax incentives would be restricted by the amendment. If the judge lifts the injunction in the case, the measure would appear on the ballot in either August or November.

The provisions to block the ballot measure were added to two Senate bills before they left the House General Laws committee chaired by Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia. ? Jones said the provisions would be narrowed even more to only deal with the St. Louis situation. They now specify a “city within a county” and refer to a specific industry code that would include Peabody. The legislative session concludes on May 17.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com