St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by the Editorial Board
The let’s-keep-radioactive-waste-buried-in-Bridgeton crowd is not what it’s pretending to be.
More than a group of concerned citizens who say they don’t want contaminated waste transported through their communities, the righteously named “Coalition to Keep Us Safe” is a political campaign in action.
It has little to do with keeping anyone safe, considering that there already have been more than 1 million cubic yards of contaminated material shipped by rail through Missouri since the 1990s. Where was the coalition then?
This group was largely assembled and paid for recently by a subsidiary of Phoenix-based Republic Services, owner of the Bridgeton and West Lake landfills. Its purpose is to lead opposition to a clean-up effort that would involve excavating an estimated 150,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste and transporting it by rail to a nuclear storage facility. That would cost Republic most of an estimated $400 million.
What the coalition members have in common are ties to Republic Services. Spokeswoman for the group, Molly Teichman, is a conservative political commentator based in Lafayette County, Mo., near Kansas City. She has political ties to state Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, a coalition supporter. They are both longtime friends of Kay Hoflander, chair of the Lafayette County Republicans, who has worked on behalf of the coalition.
The common thread stitching them together is Russ Knocke, Ms. Hoflander’s son. He is the director of field communications and public affairs for Republic. Mr. Knocke told the Post-Dispatch’s Blythe Bernhard and Jacob Barker that the company spent between $10,000 and $100,000 on a recent advertising blitz against unearthing and transporting the waste. Ms. Teichman is paid $1,500 a month from Republic.
Pretty easy to see where the opposition gets its marching orders, isn’t it?
It gets even better. Republic Services has taken a page straight out of the playbook of David Plouffe, architect of the long-shot bid to get Barack Obama into the White House in 2008, and currently the “strategic adviser” for Uber. When Mr. Plouffe was hired by Uber, the ride-hailing company that is disrupting taxi services everywhere, the company discussed “Uber the Candidate.” Mr. Plouffe was known as the “campaign manager.”
The basics in Mr. Plouffe’s playbook are:
• Turn your campaign into a cause.
• Find a theme.
• Build an inspiring narrative around the theme.
• Speak to your core audience through social media, email, advertising or face to face.
• Turn your audience into advocates, partly by equipping them with selective facts.
• Ignore anything that doesn’t fit your strategy.
And, perhaps most importantly, keep doing the same thing day after day until people start to buy your argument.
With this strategy, there is nothing that can’t be fought as a political campaign. But there is also no meaning in it. Telling people you want to keep them safe when what you really want to do is save a waste management company a lot of money is cynical. So what if thousands of other people who live in the vicinity of West Lake and Bridgeton landfills actually may not be safe? The coalition isn’t working to keep them safe, is it? But then, those aren’t the people signing the checks.
Don’t fall for this strategy. This group is tying to scare the rest of us into thinking that putting a cap over the landfill, a plan put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2008, is the right way to handle radioactive waste in a landfill that is adjacent to another landfill in which an underground fire has been burning for years. They’re trying to convince people that it is better to let the people around Bridgeton live with the waste in their neighborhoods than it is to transport the contaminated material along rail lines through their communities.
The evidence suggests otherwise. The waste products where they lie are a threat of unknown proportions. A million cubic yards of contaminated waste already have moved through Missouri — with more being transported daily — and there have been no known disasters as a result.
The right thing to do is excavate the radioactive material and move it to a safe nuclear storage site. Stop the political campaign. Turn off the money spigot. Let the phony concern wither.
Ms. Teichman showed her complete lack of sensitivity and tin ear to the concerns of others when she thumbed her nose on social media at members of the group, JustMomsSTL, which wants the waste hauled away.
She tweeted: “Dear mombots of #westlakelandfill, your reality tv show is over. Go home and hangout with your kids — they miss you.”
Nice. Easy shot to take when you live more than 200 miles from St. Louis with little chance that you, your kids or loved ones are going to become ill or contaminated from radioactive waste. Way to run a political campaign, Ms. Teichman.