Environmental Law Blog
In November 1962, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) had an idea. He approached Attorney General Robert Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy with his idea-President Kennedy should go on a national conservation tour in an effort to bring environmental issues into the political "limelight." The Attorney General and President Kennedy liked the idea, so the President embarked on a five-day, eleven-state conservation tour in September 1963. President Kennedy's conservation tour did not blossom into the environmental windfall for which Senator Nelson had hoped, so he tried again. At a conference in Seattle, Washington in September 1970, Senator Nelson announced that he would participate in a grassroots demonstration on behalf of the environment during the spring of 1970. He invited every American to participate. More than 20 million demonstrators gathered in local communities to bring political attention to environmental issues on April 22, 1970. In response to Earth Day's success and the growing consciousness of environmental problems, Congress amended the Clean Air Act. Some critics said that Congress reacted too quickly by rushing regionally-based ambient air quality standards through the legislative process. Others maintained that the Clean Air Act corrected previous pollution control strategies that had failed and effectively brought air pollution control to the forefront of Congressional interest. What do you think? Did Senator Nelson achieve his original goal? Does Earth Day generate sustained environmental and conservation interest? Was the Clean Air Act, Earth Day's first major "result," a success?
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are agricultural facilities that house and feed a large number of animals in a confined area for 45 days or more during any 12-month period. The most common Missouri CAFOs produce pork. CAFOs have some benefits. They allow companies to more efficiently produce the meat we find in grocery stores, thereby reducing consumer costs. Moreover, some farmers believe that the promotion of CAFOs is a logical, rural economic development strategy.
Unfortunately, the benefits from CAFOs sometimes result in environmental degradation. CAFOs can affect our water, our ambient air, and our quality of life in rural Missouri. In fact, in 2003, the Nation's 238,000 CAFOs produced 500 million tons of manure. If discharged illegally, manure contaminated with antibiotics, pathogens, nutrients, and hormones can find its way into our surface and ground water. And -- as many CAFO neighbors have told us -- CAFOs can cause excessive odors.
For an interesting perspective touting the benefits of CAFOs, and an opposing view in response, click on these links to read letters written by your fellow Missourians and recently published in the Joplin Globe.
Tell us what you think. Are CAFOs as bad as some critics portray them or is the economic benefit worth the environmental costs?
For many years, Missouri farmers have met each other at the middle of the fence separating their properties to shake hands over the land. One farmer took care of the fence in one direction, and the other farmer maintained it in the other direction. They were just being good neighbors.
For a decade, the Attorney General's Office has followed a Good Neighbor Policy intended to help CAFOs and neighboring landowners better communicate and resolve differences. Being a good neighbor may mean implementing next generation technology, improving practices, listening to others, or some combination.
The dilemma is that for every CAFO operator who has a property right to make reasonable use of his or her land, so does his or her neighbor. And sometimes, those property rights clash.
Are CAFOs doing enough to be good neighbors? How -- if at all -- can the state better protect the property rights of both neighbors and CAFO operators?
The Kansas City Star recently published a memo from lawyers for Smithfield Foods Inc. outlining its options for handling numerous lawsuits alleging that the company's operations are a nuisance here in Missouri. Apparently, the company inadvertantly sent this frank memo to the newspaper in an e-mail. The memo to the company's president provides insight into how one large corporation makes decisions in environmental litigation, and can be viewed with the news story by clicking here.
Under Missouri law, a company has a duty to protect its shareholders from financial loss. Like all businesses operating in Missouri, it also must ensure that its acts and omissions are not a nuisance for neighbors. How can citizens protect their property rights and quality of life when dealing with a corporation that must take the bottom line into account? And how can a corporate citizen satisfy sometimes competing demands imposed by law? Tell us what you think.
Missouri is blessed with abundant water resources. In fact, for most of Missouri's history water has been regarded as a "common enemy to all" by the courts because of the great flood dangers posed by our many rivers and streams. Today, the flood danger remains real and we have more than enough water to meet our needs. While flooding will always be a risk we live with here in Missouri, the same cannot be said for our abundant water supply. Shortages are on the horizon, particularly in Southwest Missouri. But Missouri laws governing water use were written many years ago -- in the time of plenty -- and are of limited utility now.
The basic rule is that a landowner may make reasonable use of water on or under his land. If a water use is detrimental to a downstream landowner and is not reasonable (i.e., wasteful), then the downstream landowner can sue his upstream neighbor for relief. Litigation results have been unpredictable, yielding a common law patchwork quilt with minimal protection for private water use, and no protection for public water supply. Under Missouri statutes, the state has no express power to govern how individuals, businesses or water supply districts conserve or use water. The only role for the state is to register "major water users." There is no penalty for failure to register no matter how much water a user withdraws.
Is it time for Missouri to re-examine its water resources law with an eye to the future? Or will the free market ultimately ensure that water is used appropriately in Missouri?