If it is spring in Missouri, it must be close to the end of the legislative session, and state legislators are once again embarking on a gambling binge. Sometimes the gambling involves human health, safety, welfare, environmental quality and money.
Sponsored by state Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, Senate Bill 40 was recently voted out of the Senate and could hit the governor’s desk soon. If signed into law, it will place residents of Missouri at greater risk from water pollution, air pollution and hazardous waste pollution by crippling the ability of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to meet the requirements of federally mandated environmental rules and regulations. In addition, the bill places millions of dollars in federal funding for these programs at risk of being lost.
Why is this bill a money gamble?
As a delegated authority, Missouri must meet established federal standards or the Environmental Protection Agency will step in and do the enforcement instead of DNR. This is because Missouri agreed to implement and enforce state environmental regulations that meet the minimum federal standards. The delegation agreement with EPA does not prevent Missouri from writing regulations that are more stringent when deemed necessary. The DNR is the state agency created to implement these regulations. The EPA provides federal grant money to assist the state with implementation. In its current form, SB 40 will trigger action by the EPA to force the state to comply or to give up its delegated authority.
The flaws in SB 40 are too numerous to list, but here are several reasons for the governor to veto this bill:
• SB 40 will lower air quality — ending the vehicle inspection program in Franklin, Jefferson and St. Charles counties will make it nearly impossible to attain and maintain air quality standards in the future.
• SB 40 is fiscally irresponsible — according to the bill’s fiscal note, the bill will cost the state up to $1.5 million a year in lost fees in addition to a potential loss of $52 million in continued yearly federal highway funds for not meeting EPA air quality standards.
• SB 40 weakens hazardous waste oversight — a provision in the bill adds a “no stricter than federal” provision to the hazardous waste law, which means that the state could no longer qualify for the $1 million grant to operate the Voluntary Cleanup Program. To understand the significance of a “no stricter than” clause in the law, an analogy is appropriate. Assume that the federal government establishes a national minimum speed limit of 50 miles per hour on all roads and highways. If Missouri could not enact stricter laws than the federal minimum, then the speed limit in school zones would be 50 miles per hour and local jurisdictions would be unable to protect children from collisions with vehicles. That is the definition of a nonsensical law.
• This bill also would change state hazardous waste generator exemptions provisions to match the less protective federal regulations. This would cost the DNR about $500,000 annually.
• SB 40 cripples the ability of DNR through the Hazardous Waste, Clean Air and Clean Water commissions to establish new fees based on inflation or the need to add or remove fees for other reasons. These fees provide the lion’s share of funding for DNR staff who implement the various programs.
In an April 8 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he doesn’t believe the EPA will take action against the state. “I don’t expect any loss of revenue from the federal government,” Eigel said. “I don’t have a lot of confidence in these numbers.” The federal funding loss is outlined in a nonpartisan fiscal note compiled by legislative analysts.
From the same Post-Dispatch article: “I don’t really want to roll the dice on this,” said state Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield.
“MoDOT is not exactly flush with cash at this moment. I don’t think we need to be losing $52 million,” said state Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City. “I think this is a little too risky for us to be passing.” The measure was sent to the House on a 23-10 vote.
If signed into law, history will identify this bill as the worst piece of legislation ever produced by Missouri lawmakers, and that is a high bar to pass. Don’t let state politicians gamble with our clean water, clean air and environmental safety. The health and welfare of all Missouri citizens is being bet on a casino roll of the dice. Please tell your representatives to reject this bill and then contact Gov. Mike Parson and demand that, if it reaches desk, he will veto this costly, harmful and destructive legislation.