JEFFERSON CITY • An environmental group called on the Missouri Supreme Court Tuesday to grant them the ability to challenge a 2016 state law that gave farming and mining interests more power over the state’s water quality.
In arguments before the high court, the Missouri Coalition For The Environment questioned a lower court ruling that found they didn’t have legal standing to pursue the Legislature’s three-year-old rewrite of the state’s Clean Water Commission.
At issue is a law championed by groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau that environmental groups said would allow for a corporate takeover of a commission that has the ability to approve or deny construction permits for facilities that have the potential to damage Missouri waterways.
The coalition believes 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 case, 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 arguing in favor of keeping the law intact, the state said even if the coalition had a legal interest in the case, they cannot claim any particular damage has been done by the law at this time.
“This does appear to be something that falls outside of review,” said Water Commission Attorney Justin Smith.
Judge Paul Wilson, however, questioned whether the Legislature could pass a law that insulates members from their own actions.
Smith didn’t disagree.
“It is a very narrow universe of bills,” Smith said.
Supporters said the change in the membership of the Clean Water Commission was needed because members of the public lack the expertise to make good decisions regarding the effects of industry on the state’s waterways.
Opponents said the law was written in response to an earlier decision by the committee to deny a permit to a large-scale hog farming operation in Grundy County.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed the bill, but he was overridden by the Republican-led Legislature.
With the law in place, former Gov. Eric Greitens named a trio of new members with strong agricultural ties to the panel in 2017.
Gov, Mike Parson has continued that pattern, nominating a farmer to the board last year.
The court did not issue a ruling on the matter Tuesday.