Mo. legislators dismiss climate change as a policy priority

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, December 7, 2018

ST. LOUIS — Leaders of Missouri’s House and Senate committees that oversee utilities provided a sneak preview on issues that could be addressed during the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.

One issue clearly not on the list of concerns: climate change.

Speaking at an energy conference, state Rep. Rocky Miller (R), head of the Missouri House Utilities Committee for the past two years, “vehemently disagreed” with a remark from an energy consultant in the audience that there was a scientific consensus around climate change and its chief cause.

Miller, who said he probably won’t lead the committee next year, called it “egotistical” for humans to think they could affect the planet’s climate to the extent it could cause more powerful and more frequent hurricanes and wildfires.

“How much of an actual input do we actually have to that climate change?” he said. “How much is there really that is us?”

State Sen. Ed Emery (R), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee, said increased levels of CO2 could help increase agricultural production. He also called on the courts to revisit last decade’s decision that let EPA regulate carbon dioxide pollution under the Clean Air Act.

“I think that’s something that’s going to have to be readdressed,” he said.

Ed Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, called the legislators’ remarks “sobering.”

Smith, who was in the audience, said the positions among some Missouri legislators on climate explain why environmental advocates have increasingly turned away from the General Assembly for help and to corporations, cities and grassroots organizing.

“It shows we need to recalibrate our tactics for tackling climate change in Missouri,” he said.

Emery was the lead sponsor of a controversial rate reform bill that passed in the final days of this year’s legislative session. It was signed by former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) just before he resigned amid a scandal involving a 2015 extramarital affair.

Energy legislation ahead

While energy isn’t expected to be a key issue during the legislative session that begins next month, the senator said one area he’d like to explore is deregulating Missouri’s energy market.

The remark comes days after members of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council defeated a resolution in support of competition and consumer choice in electricity markets. Emery is an ALEC member (Energywire, Dec. 3).

“I’m a really strong advocate for the free market, I would like to see us evaluate what it would look like if Missouri went to a free market environment in energy,” he said. “Some states have done it fairly successfully.”

Miller also expected legislation related to electric vehicles. He urged lawmakers to think about how an increase in EVs on Missouri roadways would affect highway funding, which comes partially from a sales tax on gasoline.

While EVs represent just a tiny fraction of the vehicles on U.S. roads today, the market share is expected to grow rapidly in coming years as automakers introduce dozens of new models. That could reduce revenue for the state to maintain its highways.

“We’re already having trouble funding our infrastructure, our roads, in the state of Missouri,” he said. “If we add the fact that we’re going to take 10 percent of those [gasoline-powered cars] out of the mix paying fuel tax, what are we going to do?”

Miller also suggested the Legislature play defense by considering changes to make it more difficult to amend the state constitution through ballot initiatives.

Missouri, he said, is the easiest state in the country for the public to amend the constitution through initiative petitions. Miller fears that unless that’s changed, the state could be a target for a clean energy campaign like the ones in Arizona and Nevada this year (Energywire, Nov. 7).

Missouri’s existing renewable energy standard, which requires 15 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable resources by 2021, is one of the few voter-approved renewable mandates in the country.

“It’s easy to tell someone in a Walmart parking lot, ‘Hey, would you sign this? I would like for all of these lights to be powered by renewables, 100 percent. All you have to do is sign this petition,'” Miller said. “Next thing you know, we’ve got a requirement for 100 percent renewables on the ballot.”

While no one has yet sought to increase Missouri’s renewable standard, a state official said utility expansion of clean energy has become an important selling point in attracting jobs.

Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, said the state receives requests for proposals from companies looking to relocate or open new factories, and increasingly they’re looking for access to clean energy.

“We know that that has to be part of our strategy overall as a state,” Dixon said.

“I think looking at how do we expand those renewable sources of energy throughout our state — we have to keep doing that because the market is demanding it.”