The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a case that focuses on a question of whether a state government commission overstepped its legal bounds when it removed key provisions from a 2008 renewable energy law.
The renewable energy standard law requires that utility companies, such as Ameren Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light, and Empire District Power Company, use a certain percentage of renewable energy in their power sales to customers — 15 percent by 2021. Sixty-six percent of Missouri voters supported the law at the ballot box eight years ago.
The Missouri Public Service Commission passed a law in January 2010 to enforce this standard, but the state legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules removed two paragraphs from the law requiring that the utility companies provide their own renewable energy. Instead, the companies can purchase "renewable energy credit" papers to meet the law's requirements using out-of-state energy.
The Great Rivers Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit geared toward environmental issues, sued the state in 2013 for the omission. The firm argued in a release that the legislative committee didn't have the authority to override the Public Service Commission's law and that the two paragraphs should be reinstated.
"JCAR's action was not only unconstitutional; it was also an infringement on ... the people's right to enact legislation by initiative petition," said Heather Navarro, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, in a release.
Henry Robertson, staff attorney for Great Rivers, said in an interview on Tuesday that the Missouri Supreme Court decided a similar case with renewable energy in 1997. At the time, the court ruled that legislators cannot rewrite laws after a certain point in the lawmaking process. State laws typically have a window for public comment, after which they are sent to the Secretary of State's office for publication. With its 2010 ruling, Robertson said the administrative rules committee missed this window.
"The fundamental conflict in this case involves (the committee's) legislative veto of administrative rules," Robertson said. "The Supreme Court already held that unconstitutional in 1997. The legislators tried to fix that before and did not succeed, so it's still unconstitutional now when JCAR prevent rules from taking effect."
Robertson followed this line of argument in presenting Great Rivers' case to the state Supreme Court, in front of a full courtroom of observers. When a justice asked what effect the court could have on the renewable energy law, Robertson said that the court could issue an order of mandamus for the Secretary of State to reinstate the law's two missing paragraphs. That action would put into effect the law voters originally approved.
Vaughn Prost, chief executive officer of Missouri Solar Applications, stressed in a news release the importance of reinstating the paragraphs. Unless utility companies are required to deliver renewable energy in-state, the law is "largely meaningless," he said.
"Missouri isn't getting new jobs or the new renewable energy that should be built here (if the full law isn't enforced)," wrote Prost. "These policies are working in 28 other states, and there's no reason it can't work in Missouri too."
The state Supreme Court will issue its ruling at a date to be determined in the coming months.