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High court stands with Republican lawmakers in decision over state's clean water commission

High court stands with Republican lawmakers in decision over state's clean water commission

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JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court Tuesday rejected an attempt to block a 2016 state law that gives farming interests more power to regulate the state’s water quality.

In a unanimous decision, the high court said the Missouri Coalition For The Environment did not have legal standing to pursue the state Legislature’s rewrite of the Missouri Clean Water Commission.

The panel has the ability to approve or deny construction permits for facilities that have the potential to pollute Missouri waterways. Among other duties, it regulates large factory-style hog farms, which produce bacteria-laced manure that could harm people if the waste were to seep into the drinking water supply.

In North Carolina, for example, scores of sewage lagoons filled with hog waste mixed with floodwaters after Hurricane Florence hit the coast last year, raising concerns about a rise in disease.

The Missouri law was spawned in response to a 2015 decision by the commission to stop a large animal feeding lot in Grundy County. The hog farm would have generated 90 tons of manure a year.

In 2016, agriculture groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau pushed the Republican-led Legislature to alter the make-up of the commission by allowing fewer representatives of the public on the panel.

Supporters said the change in the membership was needed because members of the public lack the expertise to make good decisions regarding the effects of industry on the state’s waterways.

Then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation saying the commission needs non-industry members to bring balance to their decisions.

Lawmakers, however, overrode the veto and in 2017, former Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, named a trio of farm-friendly members to the board.

Gov. Mike Parson, also a Republican, has continued that pattern, nominating a farmer to the board last year.

Currently, there are four members with strong farming or Republican Party roots on the seven-member panel. Two seats are vacant.

In its lawsuit, the coalition argued the law is unconstitutional because it was amended on to legislation dealing with a separate subject. State law requires bill to be limited to a single subject.

A circuit court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the environmental coalition could not prove they had a legal interest in the case. The court also said the new law did not violate the state’s single subject clause.

In rejecting the lawsuit, the Supreme Court concurred with the lower court ruling.

“The circuit court correctly dismissed the petition because the coalition has not demonstrated it has standing to bring its claims for relief,” the decision noted.

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