This December, on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) and Carolyn Johnson, a resident of Stoddard County, Great Rivers Environmental Law Center appealed a trial court’s ruling on a case from 2016. In 2016, Great Rivers filed suit in Cole County Circuit Court against the State of Missouri over its passage of House Bill 1713 in (HB 1713), which upset the balance between the public interest and regulated interests at the Clean Water Commission. The Commission enforces the federal Clean Water Law and grants permits to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Previously, four of the seven members of the Commission had to represent the public interest and no more than two members could represent agricultural, mining and industry. HB 1713 lets agriculture take as many as six of the seven seats on the Commission and the public as few as none. Five of those six are now taken by members connected to corporate factory farms, with one seat being vacant.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Ms. Johnson challenge the bill because the way the legislature passed it in 2016 was unconstitutional. The bill was originally about “wastewater treatment systems,” so it was misleading to add such a wide-reaching change to the bill as the composition of the Commission. However, the Court ended up dismissing the lawsuit because the plaintiffs did not have “standing” to sue; in particular, none of their tax money was spent on the Commission. They are now taking the case to the Missouri Supreme Court on appeal.
“All citizens of Missouri have an interest in a legislature that follows the Constitution when it passes laws,” said Henry Robertson, Great Rivers’ attorney for the parties.
“We are pursuing all options because the General Assembly shouldn’t be able to make substantial changes to the Clean Water Commission without public hearings and public input, which is what happened with this bill,” said Ed Smith, Policy Director of MCE.
“Missouri citizens rely on the legislature to represent all interests and not be in the pockets of narrow agricultural interests,” said Carolyn Johnson. “The legislature failed to fairly represent the citizens and failed to protect natural resources when they passed this bill.”
Great Rivers is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm in St. Louis that provides free and reduced-fee legal services to those working to protect the environment and public health. Its web address is: www.greatriverslaw.org.
The Missouri Coalition for the Environment, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) state-level conservation organization, is a force for clean air, clean water and clean energy in Missouri. Since 1969 it has educated and activated Missourians to protect the land we all love. Its web address is: www.moenvironment.org.