JEFFERSON CITY — A Cole County hearing was the latest battleground Wednesday in the debate between a patchwork of concerned Missourians and government agencies over the large farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Attorney Stephen Jeffery represented the Cedar County Commission, the Cooper County Public Health Department, Fulton advocacy group Friends of Responsible Agriculture and several residents concerned about CAFOs in a hearing in Cole County Circuit Court. At issue was last year’s Senate Bill 391, which removed the ability of county health boards and commissions to impose local regulations on CAFOs in their counties.

Jeffery argued that the bill was acting retroactively against existing regulations. The bill should apply only to proposed new regulations and should not affect ordinances passed before Aug. 28 of last year, when SB 391 went into effect, he said.

Justin Smith, assistant Missouri attorney general, represented Gov. Mike Parson, the Missouri Air Conservation Commission and the Missouri Clean Water Commission. Smith argued that state laws preempt local ordinances and regulations, which meant the Cooper and Cedar county regulations would be invalid regardless of the date they were passed.

Proponents of the bill argue that local regulations placed unnecessary burdens on farms. Those opposed to the bill worry it could limit the ability of local governments to respond to potential health or environmental risks related to CAFOs in their communities.

This case started when Jeffery, who is representing the network of parties in favor of local regulation, sought a temporary restraining order against the bill in August.

“Health boards need the ability to protect their citizens,” Melanie Hutton, Cooper County Health Department administrator, said after the hearing.

“Just like coronavirus — you never know when things like that are going to spring up in your backyard,” she said. “As a health board, you want the opportunity to respond and protect your citizens.”

Cooper County’s health board passed its regulation Aug. 13, 2019, just before the bill went into effect Aug. 28. The regulation sets air and water quality standards for CAFOs and limits the installation of underground manure lagoons.

“This regulation protects us,” said Fred Williams, who owns property near the proposed Tipton East CAFO in Cooper County. “It protects me and it protects my family.”

The Cedar County Commiswregulation in 2016.

Both sides agreed to a March 4 deadline to file a motion for summary judgment, outlining their ideal resolution to the case. After Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green issues a decision, whoever loses will likely appeal the case to the Missouri Supreme Court, Jefferey said.

  • I'm an assistant city editor. This is my junior year at MU, where I study investigative reporting and political science. Interests include local journalism, breakfast food and good books. Email with any story tips.

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