A new Missouri law that prevents counties from setting their own standards for incoming industrial-level livestock operations — mega-hog-farms and the like — is appropriately under legal attack from both environmentalists and county governments.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson is vowing “aggressive” defense of this terrible law, which prioritizes GOP fealty to big business over all else. If only Parson would be so aggressive about defending the conservative principle of local control.
The law, passed this year and initially set to take effect next week, prevents county governments from imposing any restrictions on the siting of large-scale farming operations that are more stringent than state regulations.
Some 20 Missouri counties have already done that, with local measures regarding odor and pollution that would hamper or bar the businesses from moving in. This law, if it goes into effect, would take that decision out of those local leaders’ hands. In essence, the state would force counties to accept these businesses in their midst, like it or not.
On an array of other issues — the minimum wage, union rules, gun control — the Republicans who run most of Missouri government have already demonstrated that their supposed allegiance to the GOP principle of local control is purely situational. In this case, casting that principle to the wind, as Parson and his party are doing, is especially egregious, because the mega-farm issue directly and immediately affects the comfort and health of the very people who are being told they have no say.
It’s a measure of how widely offensive the state’s stance here is that the legal challenges are coming from both environmentalists, who tend to lean left, and rural county leaders — including those in Cedar County, which sits in Parson’s former state Senate district.
Thankfully, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Monday temporarily blocked the law from taking effect next week, pending the outcome of the litigation. A hearing is set for Sept. 16.
The counties argue the new law violates Missouri’s right-to-farm constitutional amendment, which the voters approved in 2014, giving counties authority over local farm and pollution policy. In Cedar County, that allowed rules to protect a lake that provides water to Springfield.
Marlon Collins, the county’s presiding commissioner, pointed out in a statement that local elected officials “are in the best position to address local health concerns.” It’s not the only valid argument against this law, but it’s one of the strongest — and the one that, under any other circumstances, would sound like it came right from Parson’s desk.
It’s not too late for Parson to stand down and let this ill-conceived law get wiped from the books. If the mega-farm industry doesn’t like it, he has an ironclad, irrefutable explanation: The Republican Party believes in local control.