Missouri Supreme Court Upholds Farmers’ Expanded Participation on Clean Water Commission

Published September 23, 2019

The Missouri Supreme Court refused to overturn a law allowing the replacement of representatives from environmental groups on the Missouri Clean Water Commission (MCWC) with representatives from the farming and mining communities.

Commission Representation Challenged

In 2015, the MCWC revoked a permit for construction of a hog farm that would have created local jobs and generated approximately 90 tons of manure annually. The vote was largely swayed by environmental lobbyists serving as “public” members of the commission.

After that vote, the definition of a “public member” came into question. At that point, the seven-member commission was not required to have any members representing either the agriculture or mining industries and could not legally have more than two representatives in total from those industries. A third slot on the commission was reserved for a representative of wastewater treatment facilities, and the remaining slots were reserved for representatives of the public—who at that time were all environmental activist lobbyists.

The Missouri Farm Bureau persuaded the state legislature MCWC’s “public” representatives lacked the expertise needed to serve on the commission, despite being appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate. The bureau said the representatives held a bias against the farming industry and could not make good decisions about the industry’s impact on state waterways.

The Missouri legislature then added a provision endorsed by the Farm Bureau to an existing wastewater regulation bill, House Bill 1713, to allow more farming and mining representatives to be appointed to the MCWC. In addition, the new bill stated at least two members from the agriculture and/or mining industries must be on the MCWC. The amended bill passed both the House and the Senate, and when former Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in late 2016, the legislature overrode his veto, making the bill law.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens then appointed three representatives of farming interests to the commission, and Gov. Mike Parson subsequently added another farmer to the MCWC in 2018. As a result, now four of the five active Commission members are farmers or represent farmers, with two other seats vacant.

Legality Challenge Fails

MCE sued to overturn the law, arguing the MCWC provision violated a state law requiring bills to be limited to a single subject.

A Missouri circuit court tossed MCE’s lawsuit on the grounds the coalition could not prove it had a legal interest in the case. The court also said the new law did not violate the state’s single subject clause.

The state Supreme Court concurred with the lower court’s ruling.

“The circuit court correctly dismissed the petition because the coalition has not demonstrated it has standing to bring its claims for relief,” the Missouri Supreme Court ruling stated. “Although the Coalition originally alleged in its petition that it had taxpayer standing, the Coalition, after conducting discovery, conceded it does not have taxpayer standing because it could not establish that state funds were used to fund the Commission.”

The state Supreme Court also ruled MCE failed to show it had a legal interest in the makeup of MCWC or that the change in representation posed an actual threat to MCE that would give it standing to sue. In addition, the court ruled there is no reason to assume the new composition of the board will be less favorable to the public’s interest in clean water.

Expects Better Decisions

The expertise and experience additional farm representatives will bring to the commission should ensure better decisions, says Eric Bohl, director of public affairs and advocacy at the Missouri Farm Bureau.

“The Missouri Farm Bureau was pleased but not surprised by the decision,” Bohl said. “The knowledge that working farmers bring to the commission is valuable, and the environmental ethic we share is necessary.

“Nobody is more embarrassed than farmers when someone in our industry fails in our shared responsibility to do the right thing on our farms and ranches, and the farmers serving on the commission are public-spirited citizens who take their responsibilities to the environment seriously,” Bohl said.

Duggan Flanakin ([email protected]) writes from Austin, Texas.