ST. LOUIS — The Missouri Department of Natural Resources Air Pollution Control Program, which enforces the federal Clean Air Act in the state, could be insolvent by late 2016 after a proposal to raise permit and emission fees fell apart, state officials said.
A proposed permit and emission fee schedule received support from industry leaders earlier this year but late objections prompted the DNR to offer a new schedule that would make it more difficult for the already cash-strapped program to operate, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
DNR and affected industries agreed to raise fees to bring in $1.7 million in 2016 and then, after increasing again, about $3 million — still not enough to operate the program with full staff. The latest proposal will raise only $1 million per year.
Kyra Moore, director of the air pollution control program, said last week some companies objected to the proposed fee increases, and forced the DNR to revise its proposal. During a meeting Thursday with several industry representatives, Moore did not say who had raised the late objections and no one publicly complained about the fee schedule.
Many big emitters, such as power plants, supported the original plan because they did not want to bear the brunt of the emission increases rather than permit fee hikes.
"We find this is inequitable to just raise emission fees again," said Roger Walker, executive director of Regform, which represents some of the state's largest businesses. He said his group supported the initial proposal.
At the meeting, the group agreed to raise emission fees higher than originally proposed and begin the process next year to ask for permit fee increases. That will at least keep the program solvent, DNR staff said.
The air pollution program is funded largely by the fees the DNR charges to review permits and for each ton of emissions. The program also receives training and inspection fees for asbestos remediation. None of the fees have been changed in years. State law requires the DNR to reach "substantial agreement" with affected industries before seeking fee increases.
"When you're looking at a permit fee that's 20 years old, it's probably pretty hard to justify that it should remain the same," Leanne Tippett Mosby, director of the DNR's Division of Environmental Quality, said at Thursday's meeting.
If DNR can't enforce the Clean Air Act to at least a minimum level, the Environmental Protection Agency will take over the responsibility.