JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Legislation intended to provide consistency between state environmental rules and federal guidelines would make it harder to protect Missouri citizens and resources, state regulators told a House committee on Wednesday.
The Department of Natural Resources opposes a bill sponsored by state Rep. Peter Myers, R-Sikeston, that would prohibit the department from imposing standards that are more strict than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unless it can prove a need for tougher rules.
Scott Toten, director of DNR's Water Protection and Soil Conservation Division, told committee members that the bill would establish a burden of proof that would be "almost impossible" for the department to meet.
"It would restrict us from protecting the health and welfare of Missouri citizens and the environment and assumes the federal government knows all," Toten said.
Myers said the department is overreacting.
"DNR ought to be supporting this; it doesn't stop them from doing anything," Myers said. "I'm just saying DNR can't be more restrictive than the feds unless they have good cause."
The House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee heard primarily from the bill's opponents. In addition to DNR, they included environmental groups such as the Missouri Sierra Club that were concerned about the loss of local control over environmental decisions.
Supporters such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries and Farm Bureau dominated the first day of testimony a week earlier. Those groups said the bill would help make Missouri a more business-friendly state by reducing burdensome and unneeded regulations.
Myers said he will make some changes to the measure to address legitimate concerns raised by some opponents. Most significantly, he will add a provision that would apply the new policy only to future DNR rules.
As currently written, the bill would require DNR to rewrite about 160 existing regulations that exceed EPA guidelines. As a result, the measure would cost the state at least $447,000 over the next three years to implement. Myers said providing a grandfather clause for current rules should substantially reduce that cost.
Jim Warner, director of DNR's Air and Land Conservation Division, said federal standards are outdated in many cases and nonexistent in others. Some EPA rules, he added, are broadly written because environmental conditions vary widely across the country. A critical issue for some states might not be a problem for others.
Warner said all DNR rules are based on sound science but predicted the bill would lead to a flood of lawsuits against the agency, creating a "full-employment act for lawyers."
James Klahr of the attorney general's office also said increased litigation under the bill is a concern for his boss, Attorney General Jay Nixon.
The bill is HB 215.