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Environmental Issues in Missouri's Legislature.

May 18, 1996
By: LAURA CAVENDER and LAURA HEARNBURG
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Environmentalists are hailing the 1996 legislative session for lawmakers passed to protect the environment as well as what died that environmentalists say were threats.

"If you can gauge progress on what didn't pass, there was a lot of bad environmental legislation that didn't pass," said Natural Resources Department Director David Shorr.

At the top of the environmental legislative scorecard is passage of the bill to impose environmental regulations on large animal-raising plants. It was prompted by pollution and odor problems from a couple of huge hog plants in northern Missouri.

"It gives the citizens what they asked for," Shorr said. The bill included more local control and buffer zones for those living near corporate hog farms. It also requires farms to apply for a construction permit with the Natural Resources Department.

Gov. Mel Carnahan called the compromise that finally came out of the House "a master stroke of work by the legislature," but added that there was "still work to be done."

Roger Pryor, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said the legislature could be dealing with the issue again next session if these environmental protections don't solve the problem.

"If there's another season of spills like we saw last year, or a major spill," he said, "we'll see a public cry for more stringent regulation."

The only other piece of environmental legislation to be sent to the governor was a scholarship program that will benefit "under represented" students who want to pursue a career in environmental studies.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Curls, D-Kansas City, was passed in the last hours of the session.

Regulation of hog farms wasn't the only thing environmental advocates were aiming for this session. Also on the legislative agenda was defeat of an environmental audit bill that would have made it possible for companies to hide environmental violations from the public under certain circumstances.

The bill died in the Senate on the informal calendar. Brought up on the closing hours of the last day, the effort to bring it to a vote was dropped after an opponent made it clear he would talk the bill to death.

Ken Midkiff, program director for the Sierra Club, said he thought environmentalists had "won that issue."

But Roger Walker, spokesperson for the Regulatory Environmental Group for Missouri, thought the bill had its merits. "Frankly, the environment may have lost because we couldn't find middle ground on the bill," he said. "Companies with minor violations that would have come forward now won't come forward."

The one possible setback for environmental issues was failure of the legislature seek voter approval for extension of the 1/10 cent sales tax for parks and soil conservation.

Legislative efforts on that measure were dropped after urban interests vowed to amend the bill to include money for local parks and urban storm water systems.

As an alternative, an initiative petition campaign is underway to put the issue on the August ballot.

Estil Fretwell, lobbyist for the Missouri Farm Bureau and a member of the coalition working on the petition campaign, said he is confident the coalition will have enough signatures - 180,000 - by the July 5 deadline to be placed on the ballot.

But Pryor with the Environment Coalition said he didn't think the issue should have been left on the shoulders of private citizens. "The legislature didn't have the guts to do the job they should have done," he said.

Midkiff said he thought the session was an environmental victory because of the opposition from big business they encountered in the hog farm and environmental audit bills. "All in all, I'm smiling," he said. "We took on some pretty formidable foes and beat them."