ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources' Air Pollution Control Program could run out of money by 2016 because polluters are reducing their emissions, which means less revenue from fees charged for pollutants, agency officials said.
The financially struggling department also faces increased responsibilities when stronger federal clean air regulations take effect in the next few years, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
"We have to have a fee structure that covers all of the activities at a minimum level" required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Leanne Tippett Mosby, director of the DNR's Division of Environmental Quality, said last week during a meeting with industry and environmental representatives in Jefferson City.
The department projects it will run an average annual deficit of $4.5 million starting in fiscal year 2017, not including increased costs for more staff and monitoring equipment, said Kyra Moore, director of the DNR air pollution control program.
The air pollution program already is using department reserves to cover expenses and is struggling with less staff and monitoring because of state budget cuts. If Missouri can't enforce the federal Clean Air Act, the EPA could take over the state's responsibilities.
The state charges $40 per ton of emissions, which are capped at 4,000 tons per pollutant, with a maximum of 12,000 tons of total pollutants. Regulations haven't been changed since 2008. The department is considering raising those fees and caps, and also raising application and review fees for operating and building permits.
No specific fee changes have been proposed but the DNR hopes to make a proposal and get approval from the Missouri Air Conservation Commission by the end of the year so the rules can become effective in January 2016. That will happen only if a bill allowing fee changes to take effect is signed by Gov. Jay Nixon this year. If not, the program will exhaust its reserves.
John Hickey, Missouri Chapter Director of the Sierra Club, said the DNR is in "crisis" because of the budget cuts and lower staffing.
"Either the DNR has to get enough money to do its job, or the EPA needs to come in and do the job," Hickey said. "The worst case scenario is a scenario where DNR gets just enough money to hang on but not enough money to do the job."
Roger Walker, the director of the Regulatory Environmental Group for Missouri, suggested funding could be increased by using general revenue money.
His group represents some of the state's biggest industries in their dealings with environmental regulators and their fees pay for most of the air program's budget. Using some general revenue might make sense, he suggested, but state lawmakers have never shown much interest in that idea.