The Missouri Supreme Court upheld a tightened state law that stops county regulations on agricultural operations.
A 2019 law blocks county commissions and health boards from having or creating their own local rules on agricultural operations, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that don’t match state laws and regulations. In 2021, the law changed to ban other local ordinances that are “inconsistent with, in addition to, different from, or more stringent than” laws at the state level.
The suit from Cedar and Cooper counties argued that the restrictions violate the state constitution’s “right to farm” provision. During Sept. 20 oral arguments, the counties had claimed that existing county ordinances before the law went into effect should be grandfathered in.
Justin D. Smith is an assistant attorney general representing the state law. A press release from Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey stated that Bailey partnered with state agricultural associations and bill sponsors to defend the law.
“My office will continue to protect farmers and their livelihoods and legacies from bureaucratic tyranny,” Bailey said.
The Missouri Supreme Court determined that the law title was not too broad and that the law left any county ordinances that existed before it obsolete. Chief Judge Paul C. Wilson wrote the unanimous opinion, stating that the law’s language doesn’t leave room for the counties’ retroactive claim.
The law “does not permit counties to regulate in the absence of some comparable state law or regulation because such local ordinances would — at the very least — be ‘in addition to’ the specified state laws or regulations,” Wilson wrote, which the state law bans.
For example, the Cooper County Public Health Commission’s regulation that imposed air and water quality standards on CAFOs in the county, particularly on hydrogen sulfide, fine particles and inhalable particulate matter, is void because it is “in addition to” the state law’s requirements for CAFOs, as is the county’s regulation on ammonia and restrictions on subsurface manure containment structures and waste land application.
Stephen G. Jeffery of the Jeffery Law Group in Chesterfield represented the counties. He said in an emailed statement that his clients were disappointed but respected the court’s opinion. He also noted that two proposed large hog CAFOs, one in Cooper County and another in Livingston County, have voluntarily terminated their issued CAFO permits.
“This means they have ‘pulled up stakes’ and made the decision not to construct these CAFOs,” Jeffery said. “As a result, people who would have lived near these facilities now have a breath of fresh air.”
The case is Cedar County Commission et al. v. Parson et al., SC99488.