How It’s Always Been Done Isn’t Always The Way It Should Be Done

by Garrett Hawkins, President of Missouri farm Bureau

“Because that’s how it’s always been done” is a terrible phrase. Everything about it goes against the grain of improving upon the work for which we are responsible. Innovation is stifled and progress delayed because of such expressions. If farmers lived that way, they would still be putting seeds into the ground by hand one by one. If farmers never adapted to changing practices and technology, the world would not have the abundance of food, fiber and fuel it enjoys today.

Missouri Farm Bureau (MOFB) members agree that our state must continue to think strategically about how we balance energy security and property rights, and they’ve tasked us with the mission of reforming the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC). Our organization has engaged with the Commission extensively over the past decade, primarily in regard to the controversial Grain Belt Express high-voltage, out-of-state, merchant transmission line. This battle continues, as Grain Belt Express seeks to amend its prior application with the PSC to build the “Tiger Connector” line that would span properties in Monroe, Audrain and Callaway counties.

While we have partnered with multiple Missouri agricultural organizations to oppose this new line, our petition for the PSC to hold local public hearings in each of the affected counties has essentially fallen on deaf ears. Only one in-person hearing and two virtual hearings were scheduled, leaving many landowners who are either busy on the farm, not comfortable with using a virtual platform, or straight up don’t have strong enough internet service to even use a virtual platform, left behind.

The packed room at the only in-person hearing, held in Mexico, shows the importance of local public hearings. Landowners want to meet face-to-face because they are the ones fighting for private property rights, and PSC reform is needed to protect those rights.

Senate Bill 591 and House Bill 1044 would require geographical representation on the PSC, ensuring at least one commissioner is appointed from each Missouri congressional district. This legislation also proposes that at least three commissioners must be engaged in production agriculture. These reforms are important to farmers and ranchers who, for decades, have dealt firsthand with utility infrastructure crisscrossing private property to power and fuel our nation. As the Biden Administration forces the transformation of the power generation and transmission sector as we know it, agriculture must have an official seat at the regulatory table. Rural Missouri needs PSC commissioners who fully understand the fundamental value of property rights and the long-term impacts to farm families whose farming businesses could be affected for generations by these projects.

Farm Bureau’s proposal for change comes directly from the grassroots. It started with our policy process last summer and was adopted by our membership last December.

It’s clear the current PSC model isn’t working. Farmers and rural landowners will undoubtedly have future projects above and below-ground slice across their land and they deserve a seat at the table. This is a forward-looking, basic, good government policy that Missouri’s General Assembly should adopt to make sure the PSC works for all of its citizens, while respecting family farmers and ranchers and their property rights.

“Because that’s how it’s always been done.” If that’s the answer, then the wrong questions are being asked. MOFB members are asking the right questions, and it’s time to start providing some better answers.