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Move to revamp Missouri's water panel draws concern

Posted September 17

— A measure that would give farming and mining interests a bigger say in Missouri's water policies has environmentalists worried that the change could negatively affect rivers.

The state's Republican-led Legislature on Wednesday overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill that will empower his successor to remake the Missouri Clean Water Commission, tasked with safeguarding the state's water quality, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/2cwUke1 ).

The seven-member commission has the ability to decide construction permits for facilities that have the potential to damage Missouri waterways.

The change would limit the number of public members of the commission to no more than four, and at least two members would have to come from the agriculture and mining industries.

Opponents argue that the change — championed by the Missouri Farm Bureau and other groups — would allow a corporate takeover of the commission.

Sen. Ed Emery, a Lamar Republican who ushered the bill through the Senate, said Nixon's concerns that the law will "shift the balance of power" on the commission are overstated.

"It would take a pretty serious conspiracy to mess that commission up, so I really don't have any concerns about it," Emery told reporters after the end of session Wednesday.

Ed Smith, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment's policy director, called the change an "incredible knee jerk reaction" to the commission's earlier decision to deny a permit to a large-scale hog farming operation in Grundy County.

In denying that permit, board members said the company behind the project didn't prove it had the assets to pay for the clean-up of potential manure spills.

A decade-long member of the commission, Ben "Todd" Parnell III of Springfield, said he was disappointed and "angry" about the change, insisting "it's a travesty to take away citizen representation as the foundation for the Clean Water Commission."

"The water of our state is unique and precious and it belongs to the citizens and not corporations or agricultural or mining interests," said Parnell, Drury University's former president. "It's a legacy and a heritage."

The change was among various victories for agricultural interests during the spring legislative session and the veto session. GOP supermajorities in the House and Senate also approved legislation that will close some types of farm data from the state's open records laws. State agencies will be required to keep information collected for voluntary agricultural programs confidential.

"Every one of these bills will benefit the farmers and ranchers of this state," said Blake Hurst, the Missouri Farm Bureau's president. "They will make a positive difference on their farms."

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