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As utility companies look to increase costs, the Consumers Council of Missouri works to keep essential services affordable for all St. Louisans.
Many St. Louisans may be unfamiliar with the Consumers Council of Missouri, a consumer advocacy organization that represents Missouri residents in disputes over fair pricing. For over four decades, it’s made significant contributions to the lives of St. Louis’ residents, from exposing price gouging in the city’s grocery stores to agitating for reform of its utility companies.
Today, the Council proudly continues its fight to regulate utilities and ensure that the entire city has access to affordable power. Over the past year in particular, it’s achieved some important victories in its continuing struggle for St. Louisans. Read on to learn more about what they’ve accomplished:
Fighting the Good Fight
The beginnings of the Consumers Council lie with the price of produce. A group of housewives, led by a woman named Alberta Slavin, noticed that produce sold at the same stores cost significantly more in North St. Louis than in the more affluent areas to the south. The organization they founded to combat these disparities — Housewives Elect Lower Prices, or HELP — attracted national media attention.
But Slavin and her friends didn’t stop there. After the phone company stopped her service, Slavin founded another organization called the Utility Consumers Council of Missouri, which became the go-to advocacy group for consumer issues in the St. Louis area. In 2006, a group of women resurrected the organization from dormancy, broadened its scope, and renamed it the Consumers Council of Missouri.
The Council’s ongoing mission remains “to educate consumers statewide and advocate for their collective interests through leadership and partnerships on issues such as utility rates, health care access, personal finance and others as they arise.”
Fair Utility Rates for All
Even though the Consumers Council has expanded its scope since it was first founded, it continues to fight for fair utility prices in St. Louis and across the state of Missouri. The Council has made significant progress over the last 45 years, but challenges still remain.
The city of St. Louis has long struggled to provide its residents with affordable utilities. In recent years, local providers have lobbied the city’s government — as well as the state legislature — to relax laws regarding energy rates, thereby strengthening their monopolies. These demands peaked in January 2017, when the Missouri Public Service Commission approved what amounts to a 10% increase on many residential energy bills. This may not seem like much, but for St. Louis’ poorest residents, it adds financial strain.
Even if St. Louis’ utility companies agree to fixed limits on price increases, those restrictions won’t preclude them from adding even more fees for environmental regulations or postponing rate reductions. With many St. Louisans already struggling to afford housing, higher utility rates make their economic situation even more precarious. Therefore, advocacy groups like the Consumers Council must repeatedly negotiate for lower rates.
Successes from 2017
Fortunately, the Council has worked tirelessly over the past year to provide St. Louisans with much-needed relief, and summarized its efforts in its 2017 report. Thanks to its efforts, Ameren Missouri agreed to reduce its proposed rate increase from 7.8% to 4%, and its requested fixed customer charge from $12.89 to $9. Across the state, the Council similarly succeeded in lowering Kansas City Power & Light’s request for a 7.5% increase to just over 5%.
These limits on rate increases will benefit some of St. Louis’ most vulnerable residents, preventing their bills from rising next year and reducing their cost load in the future. The Consumers Council remains vigilant at the state level, where energy, natural gas, and water companies continually lobby for increases across Missouri.
Though the struggle for affordable utilities in St. Louis continues, the city’s residents can rest assured that the Consumers Council of Missouri will continue to fight on their behalf. Thanks to their efforts, all St. Louisans can enjoy access to essential services at a fair price.