, ,

A large part of the CAFO battle in this state is about who controls where the factory farms can be located. Big Ag wants only the legislature–Republican controlled–to have that power. Environmentalists and many rural residents want local control, on the assumption that the locals shouldn’t have to tolerate environmental damage and devalued property. A skirmish in that battle has arisen over the question of whether anybody besides the legislature can create CAFO free buffer zones around historic sites and state parks. The resulting controversy involves both Chris Koster and Jay Nixon.

The controversy began with a fight at the historic village of Arrow Rock near Columbia. The town, which makes most of its income from the tourist trade, went to court in 2007 to prevent a 4800 hog CAFO from being built nearby. In August of last year, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce ruled that there would be a two mile buffer zone to protect the historic village.

The hog CAFO, as it turned out, wasn’t built, so the buffer zone was a moot point, but Matt Blunt’s Department of Natural Resources, carrying water for Big Pig, as usual, appealed the decision anyway. The bad actors didn’t want a precedent of buffer zones set.

Environmentalists were pleased, therefore, to hear candidate Jay Nixon assert, when he spoke in Arrow Rock before the election, that the role of the DNR is to regulate polluters near historic sites and state parks. Indeed, the DNR is mandated by law to protect those sites. So environmentalists and anti-CAFO activists figured that if and when Nixon was elected, the DNR would drop the suit and the precedent of buffer zones would remain.

But it hasn’t happened that way. Somehow the appeal against buffer zones has wound up in the attorney general’s office with Chris Koster, who is reluctant to let it drop. When he was a Republican, Koster had a history of opposing any local control of CAFOs. In 2007, he introduced a bill (SB 364) that would have taken away the only vestige of local control over CAFOs. Environmentalists pressured their senators, and the bill–even in a Republican controlled Senate–never came to a vote.

Although environmentalists supported Koster in last year’s election, figuring he’d be easier to work with than Gibbons, they’re not finding their efforts for him well rewarded. Koster told the Columbia Tribune that he believes, in the interest of unity and predictability, that only the legislature should be able to create buffer zones. He concedes that Nixon and the current officials at the DNR would probably like to see the appeal dropped, but he contends that “Allowing circuit judges and local county health departments to ‘draw their own boundaries is an increased threat to agriculture.'”

A threat to agriculture? Not exactly. Not unless you define “agriculture” as Smithfield Farms. Which Koster apparently does. Referring to Koster’s switch to the Democratic Party early last year, some environmentalists are still referring to him as “Koster the Imposter.” I don’t blame them. As long as he continues to favor corporate controlled agriculture in this state, I’ll continue to think of him as a Republican.