The fox is guarding the chicken coop

Imagine the Highway Patrol asking you if it’s okay to set the speed limit on Interstate 70 at, say, 75 miles per hour.  And suppose you say you won’t settle for anything less than 90.  Well, okay, says the Highway Patrol, if that’s the way you want it.

Imagine if your college or university asked you if it was okay to require you to maintain a “C” average if you wanted to graduate and you said, “No, I think D-minus should be good enough for a degree,” and the school says, “Since you want it that way, that’s how it will have to be.”

Suppose your city came to you and said, “We need to have a tax of three cents per hundred dollars valuation of your home to make sure our sewer system can take care of the dirty dishwater and the contents of your toilets,” and you say “I don’t feel like paying more than a penny,” and the city said, “Fine, Good.  Thanks. We’ll lay off most of our maintenance department but we’ll make do.”

That’s kind of where the Department of Natural Resources’ Air Pollution Control program is.  That’s the program that administers the Federal Clean Air Act at the state level.   The costs of doing that enforcement are paid through a series of permits and emission fees charged to those who release pollutants into the air we breathe.

But program administrators say it’s going to run out of money late next year because those fees are not bringing in enough income and enough of those the agency regulates don’t want to pay any higher fees that the agency has to say, in effect, “Okay.  We’ll try to get by, we guess.”

It’s not that the clean air program spends money like it’s a billionaire trying to buy the legislature or the state constitution.  It has a dozen unfilled positions and they’ll likely stay unfilled even as the department tries to handle monitoring and enforcement of regulations in the St. Louis area that had previously been done by local offices.  But the St. Louis offices have so little money that those duties have been passed up to the short-handed state agency.

Some fees haven’t been changed for twenty years and many of the polluters think that’s just dandy.

Here is where the problem lies:

The Missouri legislature, where foxes range pretty freely with the chickens, has passed a law saying this program has to meet with the industry groups it regulates before it publishes a new fee schedule.  But this is the kicker:  DNR cannot increase the fees enough to keep this program solvent unless the polluters substantially agree with the plan.

So guess who deep-sixed the plan to increase funding for the agency by about three million dollars to pay the costs of making sure the stuff coming out of Missouri’s business smokestacks meets federal standards for breathable air?

Why, yes, it’s our friendly polluters, or enough of them to force the agency to reduce its proposal so it can  raise only one-third as much as it was hoping to raise, which won’t be enough to keep going.

Moral of the story:  It’s hard to cluck with any authority when the fox has you by the neck.  And the legislature has left the door open for the foxes.

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