AIM pushes forward with DNR accountability bill
April 21, 2021 - The House Emerging Issues Committee, chaired by Rep. Aaron Griesheimer, heard SB 40, sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison - a bill pushed by Associated Industries of Missouri to make the Missouri Department of Natural Resources more accountable to elected officials and their constituents.
As the sole supporter of the bill, AIM President and CEO Ray McCarty told the Committee the regulated community found it necessary to change the fee setting structure to increase responsiveness of the agency.
"Prior to passage of the current stakeholder process in 2014, the Department of Natural Resources, like every other state agency, had to come to the General Assembly if they wanted to increase fees," he said. "A compromise was reached that allowed stakeholders to get together and decide if they want fees increased for a particular program. Those stakeholder meetings have been going on and they have increased fees. But having attended those stakeholder meetings, what you find is the very largest businesses can afford to send people to those meetings and about half the room is filled with Department of Natural Resources personnel. So, while they are technically 'stakeholder meetings' and there are stakeholders present, what I find is there is actually a very limited number of people that are looking at this and no elected officials in the room. We believe elected officials ought to be the ones making decisions rather than unelected bureaucrats when it comes to setting fees for the various programs," he said.
McCarty said an expiration date for the current fee-setting process is already in statute. The bill simply moves that date forward from 2024 to 2021 and the current fees would expire in 2024 with or without passage of the bill.
McCarty also said "no stricter than" federal provisions were already law in several other programs and the changes in the bill would extend those same protections to the hazardous waste programs.
Representatives from the Sierra Club, St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District, Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, City Utilities of Springfield and the American Council of Engineering Companies testified in opposition to the bill, primarily because of elimination of the stakeholder fee process, with the Sierra Club focusing their opposition on the "no stricter than" provisions. Many said they attend the stakeholder meetings, which may indicate their interest in maintaining the status quo. One of the representatives even said they thought it was proper for unelected bureaucrats to set environmental fees.
The Committee took no action on the bill at the meeting. Three and a half weeks remain in the 2021 legislative session.