JEFFERSON CITY — A 2017 law designed to make it easier for out-of-state companies to build factory farms in Missouri should be overturned, opponents of a 6,000-pig feeding operation said Wednesday.
In arguments before the Missouri Supreme Court, lawyer Stephen Jeffery of Chesterfield said the Republican-led Legislature violated the state Constitution when it changed who can be appointed to the state’s Clean Water Commission.
The seven-member commission has the power to sign off on permits allowing companies to build the controversial farms, which are blamed for strong odors and have the potential to foul streams and rivers with animal waste.
Before 2016, the panel had four members representing the general public, one with experience with wastewater, and no more than two representing agriculture, mining and industry.
Under a change signed into law in 2017 by former Gov. Eric Greitens, the requirements were flipped, giving the governor the ability to stack the commission with farm-friendly members.
Both Greitens and current Gov. Mike Parson have appointed people to the board who have strong ties to the agriculture industry.
For example, Parson, a cattle farmer, last year appointed Allen Rowland, of Dexter, to a vacant seat on the commission.
Rowland is a retired farmer, who has served on the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council and has been involved with the Missouri Farm Bureau, Stoddard County Farm Bureau, and Missouri Corn Growers Association.
Supporters of the change said it was needed because the general public doesn’t have the expertise to deal with complex clean water regulations.
Jeffery told the court the legislation was flawed because the provisions affecting the commission were tacked on to a different bill that was limited to other subjects as lawmakers scrambled to get the change on the books.
“It’s not broad enough,” Jeffery said of the bill’s original title.
The constitution says no bill can be amended to change its original purpose, and no bill can be about more than one subject, which must be in the title of the bill.
But assistant attorney general John Sauer called the 11th-hour legislative maneuver “perfectly acceptable.”
“It was a broad, umbrella topic,” he said of the title of the legislation.
At issue is a swine operation planned near the northern Missouri town of Trenton. A coalition of nearby residents known as Hickory Neighbors has been fighting construction since 2015, arguing the facility could pollute the region’s water and air.
The Minnesota-based company said it will annually apply about 4.4 million gallons of manure on 784 acres of nearby fields.
An appeals court earlier sided with the state in upholding the commission’s decision to grant a permit to build the facility.
In addition to legal arguments over the original legislation, opponents also have raised questions over whether structures built to hold manure are situated with the 100-year floodplain and whether the company conducted a study to determine the possibility that a spill could occur.
But Trenton Farms attorney Robert Brundage said the commission is not bound to bar construction based on those factors.
“There’s no authority for that whatsoever,” Brundage told the court.
The case is the latest in a series of legal challenges affecting farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
In July, the Supreme Court rejected a separate case brought by an environmental group affecting the Clean Water Commission, ruling that the organization did not have the legal standing to pursue the case.