Cleveland Plain Dealer: Lake Erie to Ohio EPA: Please, Call Me Impaired



Lake Erie to Ohio EPA: Please, Call Me Impaired

By Peter Krause


CLEVELAND, Ohio — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a list of impaired waters in Ohio, but to the disappointment of environmentalists, it doesn’t include the open waters of Lake Erie.

Designating the lake as “impaired” is critical to stemming the encroachment of harmful algal blooms, said Frank Szollosi. The category would require the state of Ohio to work with the U.S. EPA to develop a concrete plan to remediate the problem.

But the Ohio EPA did not include Erie’s open waters on a list of impaired waterways when it submitted it to the U.S. EPA last fall. The U.S. EPA approved the list May 18.

What frustrates Ohio environmentalists further is that Michigan included western Lake Erie on its list of impaired waters. That was approved by the U.S. EPA.

“This is not sensible,” U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said in a statement Tuesday. Kaptur, a Democrat, represents a swath of shoreline from Toledo to Cleveland. “There is no imaginary line in the middle of Lake Erie where one side of the lake faces challenges that don’t impact the other side… Eleven million people depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water and this contradictory action fails to address the real danger they face from the presence of toxic algal blooms.”

A spokesperson for the Ohio EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The federal Clean Water Act sets a standards for impaired waters, Szollosi said. In the case of algae blooms and nutrient loading, the U.S. EPA would require that the sources and amounts of nutrients be identified and limits set.

“We want a legally enforceable measuring stick for progress,” he said.

Without the official limits, Szollosi said voluntary incentives simply won’t work.

Incentives were applied to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay for 20 years, he said, but not until pollution standards were put in place did any meaningful reduction of nutrients occur.

In Lake Erie, the major problem is farm fertilizers running off into the lake, primarily by way of the Maumee River in Toledo. Three years ago, 400,000 Toledo area residents were temporarily without drinking water after harmful toxins from algal blooms fouled the water supply.

Algae that spreads into the central basin of the lake can also create a massive dead zone.

The phosphorus in the fertilizer is the main problem, according to Jeff Reutter, former director of the Ohio State University’s Sea Grant College Program and Stone Lab, who discussed the issue with cleveland.com this month during a water summit in Cleveland sponsored by the Cleveland Water Alliance.

Other stewards of Lake Erie have are as indignant as Szollosi over Lake Erie being excluded from the list of impaired waters.

“The waters of the Great Lakes are the most critical asset we have,” said Dan Eichinger, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, in a prepared statement. “We are disappointed in the EPA decision to all Ohio to keep the status quo. Michigan can’t address Lake Erie’s issues alone. There must be a collective action and commitment to solve it.”

The Environmental Law & Policy Center also weighed in. “By passing the buck back and forth, EPA and Ohio EPA are ducking the real issue that Ohio’s reliance on unenforceable, voluntary measures will not get the job done in addressing phosphorus pollution in Lake Erie,” reads a written statement from center staff attorney Madeline Fleisher.




Toledo Blade: US EPA Won’t Push Ohio to Declare Lake Erie Impaired




Feds Won’t Push State to Declare Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

And, in a separate-but-related matter, The Blade has learned through sources tracking Great Lakes issues that the Trump administration — when it releases its 2018 fiscal year budget plan at 9 p.m. eastern time tonight — will once again call for the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which since 2009 has provided roughly $300 million a year in new money for water quality improvement efforts from Duluth to Montreal. Western Lake Erie – the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically active area for region’s $7 billion fishery – stands to be hit hard by that decision.

Documents released today show the federal government won’t compel the state of Ohio to declare Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie as impaired, a move that environmentalists and Lucas County commissioners believe will hurt the lake’s future water quality.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency quietly issued a long-awaited decision regarding Lake Erie’s proposed impairment designation for Ohio on Friday, just days after environmentalists filed a second federal lawsuit demanding a decision one way or the other. By law, the agency was supposed to issue a ruling back in November.

The document and cover letter were made public today, drawing a swift response from a cross-section of environmental groups as well as Lucas County commissioners.

The letter was addressed to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler and signed by a former Ohio EPA director, Chris Korleski, who in recent years has been head of the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office in Chicago. In January, Mr. Korleski was moved into the position of U.S. EPA Region 5 water director.

“In reaching its decision, [the U.S.] EPA has deferred to the State’s judgment not to assess the open waters of the Western Basin of Lake Erie for the 2016 list,” Mr. Korleski wrote, referring to the state of Ohio’s list of impaired waters from last fall which fails to include western Lake Erie. He said the federal agency recognizes Ohio’s “ongoing efforts to control nutrient pollution.” Those efforts, according to critics, rely too heavily on voluntary incentives that are embraced in concept by the agricultural industry but not in practice by enough farmers.

The state of Michigan went the opposite direction in 2016, declaring its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie as impaired.

An impairment designation legally would set up the region for a more specific investigation into the sources of algae-growing phosphorus and nitrogen releases.

According to a statement from the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, the U.S. EPA “can’t have it both ways” by first agreeing with Michigan that the open waters of western Lake Erie are impaired by nutrients – then yielding to the state of Ohio’s opposition.

The trio of Democrats who comprise that county board described the situation as “foot-dragging by the Trump and Kasich administrations” that puts Toledo and Lucas County “in harm’s way.”

The Kasich administration has steadfastly said it can gain as many or more results with less regulation by sticking to voluntary incentives.

The U.S. EPA decision “preserves a status quo of insufficient action and lack of urgency in addressing one of the most vexing problems facing Lake Erie and the many people, communities, and businesses which rely on it for their drinking water, jobs, and way of life,” Frank Szollosi, a former Toledo city councilman now with the National Wildlife Federation, said in a joint statement issued by his group, the Environment Law & Policy Center, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the Ohio Environmental Council, Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the Lake Erie Foundation.

Environmentalists reacted with equal outrage to the prospects of gearing up for another showdown with the Trump administration over the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has generated more than $2 billion for previously unfunded restoration work over the past eight years.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said he has learned about the administration’s latest proposal to end funding for the GLRI in fiscal year 2018, calling it “foolish and misguided.”

“What could be more basic than restoring the Great Lakes and protecting safe, clean drinking water?” Mr. Learner asked, referring to how the lakes are the raw source of drinking water for 30 million Americans and 10 million Canadians.


Associated Press: ELPC Sues EPA Over Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Problem

EPA Sued a Second Time Over Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae Problem

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) – Environmental advocates have filed a second lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over whether enough is being done to address the toxic algae problem in Lake Erie.

The Blade reports that Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center and members of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday in Toledo. Environmental groups last month filed a similar lawsuit in Washington.

They want the EPA to decide whether western Lake Erie in Ohio and Michigan should be declared an impaired watershed, which would lead to stricter pollution controls.

An outbreak of algae blooms in 2014 contaminated the tap water for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

The EPA has declined to comment on the pending litigation.


Courthouse News: ELPC Sues EPA for Dragging its Feet on Ohio Water Pollution

Courthouse News
EPA Accused of Dragging Feet on Ohio Water Pollution
By Brian Grosh

TOLEDO, Ohio (CN) – An environmental advocacy group claims in a federal lawsuit that the Environmental Protection Agency neglected its duty by not accepting or rejecting a list of pollution-impaired waters submitted by Ohio, delaying efforts to fight algae problems in Lake Erie.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center, or ELPC, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Toledo federal court against the U.S. EPA, Administrator Scott Pruitt and Robert Kaplan, acting regional administrator of EPA Region 5.

In addition to ELPC, the plaintiffs also include two of its members who live in Toledo, Michael Ferner and Susan Matz. Ferner and Matz are also coordinators for Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, a grassroots environmental organization founded after a toxic algae bloom poisoned Toledo’s drinking water in August 2014.

Like many residents of the Great Lakes region, Ferner and Matz are concerned about the growth of harmful algal blooms, which decrease water quality and occasionally cause toxic contamination.

The National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University has monitored pollution in the rivers and streams that feed Lake Erie for 40 years and reached the “inescapable conclusion” that phosphorus runoff, primarily from agricultural lands, is a major cause of the explosive algal bloom growth in the warm, shallow waters of Lake Erie’s western basin.

“For years Lake Erie has been, and continues to be, plagued by phosphorus pollution that decreases the lake’s water quality, leading to adverse conditions that make Lake Erie unsafe for drinking water and recreation, among other uses,” ELPC says in its lawsuit. “One of these adverse conditions from which Lake Erie has suffered and can continue to suffer is the growth of algal blooms, including toxic algal blooms.”

The ELPC argues that the Ohio EPA cannot establish a “total maximum daily load,” or TMDL, to limit phosphorus pollution entering Lake Erie until after the U.S. EPA either approves or disapproves the list of polluted waters that the Ohio EPA submitted on Oct. 20, 2016.

The U.S. EPA is required by law to approve or reject the Ohio EPA’s impaired-water list within 30 days of its submission, but it has yet to do so, according to the complaint.

“By failing to comply with the [Clean Water Act] requirement that it approve or disapprove the 303(d) List by 30 days after its submission, the U.S. EPA extended and continues to extend the amount of time before a decision that might trigger the restoration of Lake Erie’s water quality through the establishment of a TMDL, which could abate the harms caused by excessive phosphorus pollution into Lake Erie’s waters,” the lawsuit states.

The impaired waters list currently awaiting the U.S. EPA’s approval does not designate the open waters of Lake Erie’s western basin as impaired by phosphorus pollution, but the U.S. EPA could cause that region to be added to the list if it disapproves the original list.

“We…believe Ohio EPA is passing the buck by choosing to call only portions of Lake Erie impaired instead of the full open waters of the western basin,” ELPC staff attorney Madeline Fleisher said in a statement. “The first step to reducing toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie is to call attention to it with an impairment designation, then devise enforceable standards to make the water clean and safe.”

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WTOL CBS News Toledo: ELPC Sues EPA to Push Ohio to List Lake Erie as Impaired

WTOL CBS News Toledo

ELPC Sues EPA to Push Ohio to List Lake Erie as Impaired

By Fayth Atkins

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) – The fight to protect to Lake Erie was brought to a federal court Wednesday afternoon.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to push the agency to act on a ruling its required to make on Ohio EPA’s unwillingness to call Lake Erie “impaired.”

Under the Clean Water Act,the EPA was required to approve or reject the Ohio EPA’s list of impaired waters by November 19, 2016. Ohio EPA announced only limited portions of western Lake Erie on their impaired list earlier this year.

“ELPC filed a lawsuit in a district court in Toledo because this is the city where 500,000 lost their drinking water for 72 hours in 2014,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “We also believe Ohio EPA is passing the buck by choosing to call only portions of Lake Erie impaired instead of the full open waters in the western basin. The first step to reducing toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie is to call attention to it with an impairment designation, then devise enforceable standards to make the water clean and safe.”

Earlier this year, Governor John Kasich’s administration released an action plan for Lake Erie that was criticized.

According to ELPC, the plan proposed very little to achieve Ohio’s 40% phosphorus reduction commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.


The Toledo Blade: ELPC Files Lawsuit Over Lake Erie in Federal Court

The Toledo Blade

Second Lake Erie impairment suit in district court
By Tom Henry

A second lawsuit that aims to get the Ohio waters of western Lake Erie designated as federally impaired was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the main difference being that the newest suit seeks to get the debate heard in a Toledo courtroom.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center said it filed its suit in the Northern District of Ohio in hopes it will be heard by Senior Judge James G. Carr of Toledo.

Joining the policy center in that suit are former Toledo councilman and mayoral candidate Mike Ferner and Susan Matz, both of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, who have become policy center members, said Howard Learner, president and executive director of the policy center.

“The U.S. EPA is not allowed to sit on its hands,” according to Mr. Learner, who described the ELPC-ACLE lawsuit against the agency as “a parallel action” to what was filed by the other groups.

He said the courts may end up consolidating the cases, but said ELPC and ACLE believe it’s important to have the case heard in Toledo to have it “closer to the action.”


Press Release: ELPC Sues EPA to Rule on Ohio EPA’s Impaired Water List


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             Contact: Judith Nemes 

May 17, 2017                                                                                       

 ELPC Sues EPA to Rule on Ohio EPA’s Impaired Water List 

Environmental group also urges Ohio EPA to call western Lake Erie impaired

Columbus, OH – Today, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, along with its members Michael Ferner and Susan Matz (coordinators for Toledo grassroots environmental group Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie), sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a federal court in Ohio to push the agency on a ruling it’s required to make on Ohio’s unwillingness to call Lake Erie “impaired.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the EPA, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Region 5 Administrator Robert Kaplan. The EPA is required under the Clean Water Act to either approve or reject the Ohio EPA’s list of impaired waters announced earlier this year. Ohio EPA’s list includes only limited portions of western Lake Erie.

“ELPC filed a lawsuit in a district court in Toledo because this is the city where 500,000 lost their drinking water for 72 hours in 2014,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “We also believe Ohio EPA is passing the buck by choosing to call only portions of Lake Erie impaired instead of the full open waters in the western basin. The first step to reducing toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie is to call attention to it with an impairment designation, then devise enforceable standards to make the water clean and safe.”

The EPA was required by law to act on the Ohio EPA impaired water list by November 19, 2016. The lawsuit holds the EPA accountable for its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act.

Earlier this year, Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Administration released an action plan for reducing nutrient pollution in Lake Erie, which contributes to toxic algae blooms that can endanger drinking water and make it unsafe for recreation. The plan was criticized for proposing very little action beyond voluntary measures that aren’t enough to achieve Ohio’s 40% phosphorus reduction commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement intended to clean up the Great Lakes.



Think Progress: ELPC’s Learner Calls Possible Shutdown of EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago “Tone Deaf and Foolish”

Chicago Staff Want a Meeting with EPA Head After Leaked Report Targets Their Office for Closure
by Mark Hand

Environmental Protection Agency employees in Chicago are asking Administrator Scott Pruitt to take the time to meet with them on Wednesday after he visits a nearby Superfund site across the border in northwest Indiana where the federal agency is working to address widespread lead contamination.
The employees want to discuss rumors that the Trump administration plans to close the Chicago Region 5 office. Reports surfaced last weekend that the Region 5 office would be one of two EPA regional offices closed to meet the administration’s budget-cutting goals for the agency.
Pruitt reportedly is expected to attend a Chicago Cubs baseball game rather than meet with employees from the office, which could be consolidated with the agency’s Region 7 office in Kansas. The identity of the other regional office targeted for closure has not been released or leaked.

If Pruitt opts to skip the baseball game, the union that represents the 1,000 employees in the EPA’s Region 5 office, the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, would want to discuss what it describes as “devastating cuts he and the Trump administration have proposed.”


Midwest Energy News: ELPC’s Learner Says Volkswagen Settlement Funds Will Help Transition to Cleaner Transportation, Reduce Impact of Climate Change

Advocates Hoped for More Volkswagen Funds for EVs to be Directed to Midwest

Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

‘More than just Chicago’

The Ecology Center and other nonprofits recently formed Charge Up Midwest to promote and seek funding for EV adoption in the region. One of Charge Up Midwest’s first projects was obtaining funding from the Volkswagen settlement.

“We would have liked to see more than just Chicago selected as one of the communities,” Griffith said.

Other critics have said the settlement agreement gives Volkswagen a leg-up in the electric vehicle market and that the company will be able to control where infrastructure is located to improve its bottom line.

The other cities selected in this first cycle — New York City, Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, Boston, Seattle, Philadelphia, Denver, Houston, Miami and Raleigh, North Carolina — were chosen largely based on anticipated EV demand.

Michigan and the Detroit region in particular seemed like a good candidate based on the number of EV registrations there and of major U.S. automakers’ interest in breaking into the sector, Griffith said. The state of Michigan also made a separate pitch to Volkswagen for EV funding.

Also, Columbus — which was selected last year for a $50 million Smart City grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation — has been making strides in the clean transportation sector, he said.

“There’s no explanation (in the announcement) about why that wasn’t convincing enough,” Griffith said of the two cities.

According to the plan, Chicago was chosen because of its existing leadership on EVs, including a $14 million city EV program and the electrification of city buses, and because of its relatively dense population, commuting patterns and consumer interest in EVs. The city was chosen despite past troubles with its EV program, including the indictment for fraud of the owners of the provider the city hired, 350green.

“Electrify America notes that it was not able to select every metropolitan area that submitted a strong proposal, but it intends to expand its Community Charging investments into metro areas with supportive government policies and strong utility integration in future investment cycles,” the announcement says.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”


Crain’s Chicago Business: ELPC Focus Groups Find Trump Voters in Midwest Swing States Care about Water, Energy Jobs

Trump Voters Actually Do Care About the Environment, Kind Of
April 12, 2017
By Greg Hinz

Environmental issues carry political weight even with Donald Trump voters, and even when top aides to the new president seem anything but green. But for the issue to count, it had better be something those voters can see and smell and feel.

That’s the big takeaway from a fascinating set of 12 focus groups that Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center conducted in recent weeks with Trump voters in swing-state Midwest cities.

Participants from Grand Rapids, Mich.; Toledo, Ohio; and Ft. Wayne, Ind., made it quite clear they care about pollution that’s visible, especially of water used for drinking, swimming and recreation. But global warming drew a big “meh” from the focus groups, many of them industrial workers.

“Water matters, and matters a lot,” said Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co., who ran the focus groups for ELPC. “It is a concrete issue they can see in their daily lives.”

Efforts to boost renewable energy also resonate with voters, particularly if they result in job creation, Selzer says.

The key on that point is numbers—showing the jobs that have been created. “Data on installed solar capacity in Indiana was met with awe and a spark that the state is a leader in the Midwest,” Selzer wrote in a report on the sessions. “They want to feel this kind of pride, and discovering what already is happening makes them feel more favorable to the renewable energy development.”

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