Supreme Court hears complex rural Missouri CAFO and Clean Water Commission case

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Jefferson City capitol

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state Supreme Court has heard oral arguments this week in Jefferson City involving a proposed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in northwest Missouri’s Grundy County.

The case before the Supreme Court involves whether or not a 2016 state law is constitutional.

Trenton Farms LLC wants to build a swine operation, which is opposed by a group called “Hickory Neighbors United.” Hickory attorney Stephen Jeffery tells the court that a 2016 state law changing the composition of the Missouri Clean Water Commission is unconstitutional because it violates the single-subject clause.

“Senate amendment number one is put onto House bill 1713 which amends (RSMO) 644.021 which alters the composition of the Clean Water Commission,” Jeffery tells the judges.

RSMO stands for revised statutes of Missouri.

Jeffery alleges that public representation on the Clean Water Commission “has been severely curtailed” due to the Legislature’s action. He says that because of the law, there is no longer a requirement that at least four members of the Clean Water Commission represent the public.

Much of Jeffery’s legal argument is based on the single subject clause. He says the law was amended, with about one week to go in the 2016 session.

“The membership of the Clean Water Commission has nothing to do with regulating water systems and all the other statutory provisions that were contained in House Bill 1713,” says Jeffery.

The law was vetoed by then-Governor Jay Nixon (D) in 2016, but the GOP-controlled Legislature overrode that veto in September 2016, along with 12 other vetoes.

Grundy County residents on both sides of the controversial issue made the three-hour drive from Trenton to Jefferson City on Wednesday to hear oral arguments at the Missouri Supreme Court. CAFO supporters say it’s about economic development and jobs, while opponents worry about water and air quality.

Solicitor General D. John Sauer argued the case on behalf of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Sauer is urging the Supreme Court to uphold the 2016 law, saying it’s constitutional. Solicitor General Sauer disagrees with CAFO critics who say the law violates the single-subject clause.

“Regulation of water systems is clearly well within the scope of the broad umbrella categories for single subjects that this court has upheld in numerous cases,” Sauer tells the court.

He also says Hickory Neighbors lacks the legal standing to challenge the Clean Water Commission’s composition. Sauer also tells the court that Hickory Neighbors did not raise constitutional challenges on time.

The Supreme Court heard 34 minutes of oral arguments on Wednesday morning. They have not announced when they’ll issue a ruling in the case.

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