Missouri Supreme Court affirms Clean Water Commission’s decision approving CAFO in Grundy County


The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed Tuesday, June 16th a Clean Water Commission decision approving a concentrated animal feeding operation in Grundy County. Hickory Neighbors United, Incorporated appealed a water commission decision affirming the Department of Natural Resources’ permit issuance to Trenton Farms RE, LLC.

Court documents say Hickory Farms asserted that a House bill changed the criteria of the Clean Water Commission and violated Article Three of the Missouri Constitution. The group claimed House Bill Number 1713 violated Article Three’s original purpose requirement in one section and the single subject and clear title requirements in another.

Hickory Farms also claimed Trenton Farms and the Department of Natural Resources presented insufficient evidence that the CAFO’s manure containment structures would be protected from inundation or damage in the event of a 100-year flood.

The Supreme Court of Missouri determined House Bill 1713 does not violate the original purpose, single subject, or clear title requirements of the Missouri Constitution. The court also determined that Trenton Farms and the Department of Natural Resources offered sufficient evidence regarding the CAFO’s protection from a 100-year flood.

Court documents report Trenton Farms applied for a permit in April 2015 to establish a swine CAFO in Grundy County. The Department of Natural Resources issued the permit, and Hickory Neighbors was formed after to promote public awareness of the environmental impacts of CAFOs in the county. Hickory Farms appealed the department’s decision to the Administrative Hearing Committee.

The Administrative Hearing Committee recommended the Clean Water Commission affirm the department’s decision to issue the permit. However, the Clean Water Commission reversed the department’s decision. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Clean Water Commission’s decision in November 2016.

The day after the appellate decision, the Department of Natural Resources again issued a permit to Trenton Farms to establish a CAFO. Hickory Neighbors again challenged the permit issuance before the Administrative Hearing Commission. Hickory Neighbors claimed, in its amended complaint, that the Department of Natural Resources erred in issuing the permit because Trenton Farms offered insufficient evidence to show its CAFO’s manure storage structures would be protected from inundation or damage in the event of a 100-year flood. The Administrative Hearing Commission granted leave for Trenton Farms to intervene and heard Hickory Neighbors’ appeal from the second permit in May and June 2017.

The Administrative Hearing Commission recommended in August 2017 that the Clean Water Commission affirm the permit’s issuance, finding that the Department of Natural Resources met its burden of proof and established that Trenton Farms’s permit complied with existing regulations.

The Clean Water Commission scheduled consideration of the recommendation for a meeting December 6th, 2017, but then-Governor Eric Greitens appointed three new members to the commission the day before. The appointments were made in accordance with House Bill 1713’s amendment. The commission postponed consideration of the Administrative Hearing Commission’s recommendation until December 12th, 2017.

Hickory Neighbors filed a motion for continuance before the Clean Water Commission’s December 12th meeting as well as a motion to disqualify three of the commissioners, including two of the newly appointed commissioners. Hickory Neighbors asserted that those members had conflicts of interest because they were affiliated with the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Soybean Association, both of which were in favor of the issuance of Trenton Farms’s permit.

The Clean Water Commission overruled Hickory Neighbors’s motions on December 12th and voted four to zero to accept the Administrative Hearing Commission’s recommended decision. Two of the commissioners did not vote.

Hickory Neighbors filed a petition for review with the Court of Appeals. The case was transferred to the Supreme Court of Missouri after an opinion by the Court of Appeals.