Government & Politics

Changes to Missouri Clean Water Commission win legislative approval

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill changing the makeup of the state’s Clean Water Commission, arguing that it could result in a commission with no members from the general public, essentially turning control of water quality over to industries that cause water pollution.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill changing the makeup of the state’s Clean Water Commission, arguing that it could result in a commission with no members from the general public, essentially turning control of water quality over to industries that cause water pollution. AP file photo

Legislation that could give agriculture and mining industries more influence over Missouri’s water regulations was passed into law Wednesday, after the state House and Senate voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill.

House Bill 1713 originally focused on changes to law pertaining to lagoon-based wastewater systems. In the final days of the 2016 legislative session it was amended to include a provision altering the makeup of the state’s Clean Water Commission, which helps set and enforce water quality standards aimed at preventing pollution. It passed with little debate in either the House or Senate.

Currently, at least four of the seven members of the commission have to be members of the general public and no more than two can represent the agriculture and mining industries. The bill would alter that to say no more than four members from the public and at least two members from industry.

Nixon vetoed the measure, arguing that it could result in a commission with no members from the general public, essentially turning control of water quality over to industries that cause water pollution.

On Wednesday, Democrats argued that the governor’s veto should be sustained because there was never a public hearing or debate on the changes. They were slipped into an unrelated bill in the final days of the session, said Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery of St. Louis, which she called “disrespectful to democracy.”

“Let’s set this aside and come back in January and give this bill the proper vetting it deserves,” she said.

The effort to change the makeup of the commission was the result of a decision it made to strip a large-scale animal feeding lot of its permit.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued a permit in August 2015 to Trenton Farms, a corporation in Pipestone, Minn., to build a facility to house 6,000-plus hogs in rural Grundy County, near the Iowa border.

The concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, would generate more than 90 tons of manure each year along with millions of gallons of wastewater.

The permit was then sent to the seven-member Clean Water Commission. Its job is to adopt regulations and policies to carry out the objectives of the federal Clean Water Law. On a 4-2 vote, the commission revoked the permit, saying the corporation behind the application had not proved it had the assets to maintain the facility or pay to clean up any potential accidents.

Three of the four commissioners who voted to revoke the permit were representatives of the general public. The fourth represented waste water treatment plants. One member was absent from the vote.

Lawmakers first responded to the ruling by trying to pass legislation that would allow a company to keep its permit as long as it was registered with the state and in good standing. When that idea ran into opposition in the Senate, proponents attached the change to the Clean Water Commission membership as an amendment to an unrelated bill.

“We fought the Clean Water Commission the entire session,” said Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, a Carrollton Republican, adding that he feels agriculture “doesn’t have a voice on the commission.”

Rep. Rocky Miller, a Republican from Lake Ozark, said the bill is a “slight change to the commission,” since the governor would still appoint the commission’s members and the Senate would have to confirm them.

But Rep. Deb Lavender, a St. Louis County Democrat, said the bill creates a situation where the “fox is guarding the hen house.”

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