Judge rules in favor of Fertilizer Board

By Sheila Harris sheilaharrisads@gmail.com

On May 13, a judge ruled in favor of the Missouri Fertilizer Control Board (MoFCB), respondents in a case that was filed in Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City, by petitioners, Denali Water Solutions and Synagro Central, on July 27, 2023.

Both parties to the suit submitted a request for the judge to make a summary judgment in the case, a legal right when the parties believe the facts underlying their requests are beyond dispute. Judge Cotton Walker accepted the MoFCB’s petition and denied Denali’s and Synagro’s.

“The court has determined that there is no genuine dispute about any material fact, that the undisputed material facts are sufficient to support summary judgment,” Walker’s Final Judgment states.

Walker’s decision will preclude the need for a trial.

“I really appreciate the common- sense approach Judge Walker took with some of the language in his ruling,” said Steve Taylor, director of the MoFCB.

Taylor points specifically to language regarding the MoFCB’s practice of issuing a “Stop Sale” order to a company whose fertilizer is found deficient to what its label shows. The idea with that order, Taylor said, is to protect landowners, who are paying for fertilizers, from financial loss.

“It would make no sense to issue a ‘stop sale’ in a case where there would be no financial harm to a landowner,” Taylor said, in reference to Denali and Synagro, who offer their processing waste at no cost to landowners.

Judge Walker agreed. The duties of the MoFCB include, generally, supervising the administration and enforcement of the Missouri Fertilizer Law.

Specifically, among many of its responsibilities, MoFCB issues permits authorizing the sale of fertilizer, inspects and analyzes the contents of fertilizers offered for sale and establishes the market value of fertilizers to determine penalties for misbranding.

Denali and Synagro’s petition against the MoFCB was filed after the MoFCB refused to renew theirs and certain other companies’ fertilizer permits after June 30, 2023, stating that because the companies did not offer fertilizer for sale, a fertilizer permit was not needed.

Until that time, the companies had land-applied processing waste under a fertilizer permit, which exempted them from the need to obtain a Clean Water Permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

“Whatever advantages or disadvantages [the] petitioners may experience because of the Board’s decision that they do not need fertilizer permits to conduct their business, the evidence does not show that they have an actual injury,” Judge Walker’s Final Judgment said. “Any harms Petitioners hope to avoid, and any competitive advantages they hope to obtain through a favorable declaratory judgment are speculative and not compelling to the court in this decision process.”

Steve Taylor said he also appreciates the language in combined House Bills 2134 and 1956 – recently passed by the Missouri legislature – in which companies will not be exempt from requirements to obtain a Clean Water permit unless they are selling a commercial fertilizer product to an end-user.

“Kudos to the legislators who made this happen,” Taylor said. “I know [State Rep.] Dirk Deaton [R-Noel] has been on this for years. A key group — including Deaton, [State Rep.] Ed Lewis [R-Moberly] and [State Sen.] Jill Carter [R-Granby] — were instrumental in getting this passed.

“It’s just one of a very few pieces of legislation that did make it to the governor’s desk this year,” he added.

Representatives from Denali and Synagro did not respond to requests for comments.

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