Ohio

Toledo Blade Editorial: There is More than One Strategy for Lake Erie

Editorial 

When you really, really want to be sure your pants won’t fall down, you go with the belt-and-suspenders strategy: You put on a belt, but in case a belt is not going to be enough to keep your pants up, you’ve got your suspenders.

The same can be said for strategies to clean up the pollution that is causing toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, says one of the environmental lawyers suing to force the federal government to designate the western basin of the lake impaired under the terms of the Clean Water Act.

While it is great that Ohio’s state environmental officials are pursuing research and voluntary pollution-control measures to reduce the amount of algae-feeding phosphorus flowing into the lake, if those approaches don’t deliver results, the Clean Water Act will.

Madeline Fleisher of the Environmental Law and Policy Center made the analogy at this year’s Great Lakes Water Conference at the University of Toledo.

There must be more than one strategy — and more than one path of action — to save Lake Erie.

Joining her on a panel at the conference was Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Karl Gebhardt, a former Ohio Farm Bureau lobbyist who is Gov. John Kasich’s point man on lake issues.

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The Toledo Blade: Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment

Great Lakes conference discusses Lake Erie impairment
November 3, 2017
By Tom Henry

One of the Kasich administration’s key players in the fight against algal blooms said Friday the future health of western Lake Erie is tied to the state’s commitment to do more aggressive edge-of-field research in each of the lake’s watersheds, not a federal Clean Water Act impairment designation that would subject farmers to more regulations.

Karl Gebhardt, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy director for water resources, told attendees of the University of Toledo College of Law’s 17th annual Great Lakes Water Conference a major research project underway by Ohio State University’s Kevin King “will be critical to finding out what’s happening in each of the watersheds.”

“We will fix Lake Erie by fixing the watersheds,” Mr. Gebhardt, who also is Ohio Lake Erie Commission executive director and the man Gov. John Kasich has put in charge of Lake Erie programs, said.

Mr. Gebhardt was one of three speakers on the afternoon panel inside McQuade Law Auditorium. It focused on the impairment controversy.

He has come under fire by groups such as Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie for his many years as an agricultural industry lobbyist prior to joining the Kasich administration.

One of his fiercest critics has been ACLE’s founder, Mike Ferner, a former Toledo city councilman and two-time mayoral candidate who claims Mr. Gebhardt’s role with the administration helps explain why it is sticking to the industry’s wishes for more voluntary incentives to reduce algae-forming farm runoff instead of imposing tougher regulations through an impairment designation. Mr. Ferner’s group had about a dozen members demonstrating outside the law school auditorium before the conference began, and he handed out flyers mocking Mr. Gebhardt before his presentation.

But during his talk, Mr. Gebhardt said he wants Ohio to revitalize its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, also known as CREP, which has lain dormant for several years. It provides incentives to farmers to create buffer strips that reduce runoff.

More importantly, though, he wants more information about whether better farming practices the state has been promoting are actually yielding the results it wants.

Several people attending the conference questioned if they are now that this summer’s algal bloom appears likely to go down as the third largest since 2002.

Mr. King’s edge-of-field research project attempts to quantify how many nutrients are leaving each of about three dozen test sites around the state. One of the preliminary results that has surprised scientists, announced months ago, is that far more phosphorus is escaping fields through underground farm tiles than surface runoff.

The state also wants to make more grants and low-interest loans available to communities such as Toledo that are reducing combined sewer overflows and modernizing their water-treatment facilities, Mr. Gebhardt said.

“We want to get money out into the communties,” he said.

He also said it is continuing to make plans for rebuilding more wetlands, and is working with Columbus-based Batelle – one of the world’s top research and development corporations – on more innovative technologies that might be used to combat algae in the future.

“We’re not going to get rid of algae in Lake Erie,” Mr. Gebhardt said. “And we want to keep the good algae in Lake Erie, because that’s what makes it the walleye capital of the world.”

He and the other two panel speakers, including Madeline Fleisher, a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney now working for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, agreed there’s no guarantee an impairment designation will bring more federal money – only the hope it might. ELPC has sued the U.S. EPA in federal court over the impairment issue, with Mr. Ferner’s group a partner in that litigation.

Mr. Gebhardt, in fact, said he believes the U.S. EPA has “been generous” with money it has provided to Ohio fighting algal blooms.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of not having enough money,” he said. “Sure, you’d always like to have more. It’s a matter of what we’re doing with it [and] if programs are working.”

Michigan declared its much smaller portion of western Lake Erie impaired a year ago this month, a move that proponents hoped would inspire Governor Kasich to do likewise in Ohio.

Kevin Goodwin, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality senior aquatic biologist who spoke on the panel, said that while there’s been no influx of federal dollars the impairment designation there raised the profile of the problem within state government and likely helped generate more funding at the state level.

“The mere impairment listing within the state already elevates it [within the state] for more funding,” Mr. Goodwin said. “It starts internal wheels moving.”

Ms. Fleisher said the lawsuit filed against the U.S. EPA pertains to the agency’s obligations under the federal Clean Water Act’s “rule of law.”

“Any administration, regardless of its politics, is supposed to follow the rule of law,” she said.

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New York Times: Advocacy Groups Say EPA Not Doing Enough to Protect Lake Erie

By The Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio — Environmental advocates who sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because they believe not enough is being done to address the toxic algae problem in Lake Erie said they think the agency’s response to the suit only bolsters their argument.

The groups want the EPA to declare that the western end of the lake is impaired by the algae that’s a threat to drinking water and fish. Such a designation could lead to stricter pollution controls.

The federal agency last spring sided with Ohio’s environmental regulators who recommended not listing the lake’s open waters as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act.

Algae blooms have turned the lake unsightly shades of green most summers over the past decade. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for two days for more than 400,000 people around Toledo.

While steps have been taken to reduce the farm fertilizer runoff and municipal sewage overflows that feed the algae, environmental groups and some political leaders have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts and have called for the impairment listing.

The EPA in court documents filed last week said Ohio’s environmental regulators didn’t look at whether the lake’s open waters were meeting the state’s water quality standards.

“They’re owning up to the fact that Ohio didn’t do this,” said Madeline Fleisher, an attorney for the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center.

She said the EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision not to seek the impairment designation shows that the federal agency isn’t willing to address the algae problem in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

“We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment,” Fleisher said.

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Cleveland NPR: US EPA Responds to ELPC Lawsuit for “Impaired” Lake Erie

Cleveland NPR: Ideastream 

US EPA Responds to Lawsuit for “Impaired” Lake Erie
By Elizabeth Miller

The US Environmental Protection Agency says the Ohio EPA did not fully look at research on harmful algal blooms when considering adding Lake Erie to its list of “impaired” waters.

Two organizations are suing the US EPA to request an “impaired” designation for the open waters of western Lake Erie. Calling the lake “impaired” would set limits on pollution sources including agricultural runoff and wastewater treatment plants.

Madeline Fleisher is with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, one of the groups in the lawsuit. “Since Ohio failed to evaluate the open waters of Lake Erie, what does that mean? Did that violate the Clean Water Act? We’ll need to argue that question to the judge, and he will give us a ruling,” explains Fleisher.

Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie is the other organization. In a statement, the organization’s leader, Mike Ferner, said “the Clean Water Act is still the law of the land and we intend to make the EPA do its job to protect our environment, our health and Toledo’s drinking water.”

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Press Release: EPA Admits Ohio Failed to Evaluate Open Waters of Lake Erie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                             Contact: Judith Nemes                                                                             

EPA Admits Ohio Failed to Evaluate Open Waters of Lake Erie

 ELPC warns EPA’s reluctance to designate all of Lake Erie impaired endangers drinking water for Ohioans & imperils the environment

Toledo, OH – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted late Friday that it does not believe Ohio EPA fully evaluated pollution in Lake Erie in response to a lawsuit by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and co-plaintiffs Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), Susan Matz, and Michael Ferner, that was filed in July. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo, seeks a designation of the open waters of the western basin of Lake Erie as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act because periodic harmful algal blooms are preventing those waters from meeting basic state water quality standards.

U.S. EPA’s response to the complaint expressly admits that Ohio EPA did not assess whether these algal blooms are impairing the open waters of Lake Erie, despite the existence of information that the state could have evaluated to determine the status of the open waters.  This is a central allegation by the plaintiffs in their argument that U.S. EPA should have rejected Ohio’s decision not to designate the open waters of the Lake’s western basin as impaired.

“EPA’s response shows that Ohio has no excuse for its failure to recognize the full scope of the effects of harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC senior attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “EPA’s acceptance of Ohio’s decision despite this lapse exemplifies the agency’s unwillingness to take aggressive action to address this problem in Ohio and the Lake Erie region. We expect better from the agencies that are supposed to be leading the way on protecting people and the environment.”

“The Clean Water Act is still the law of the land and we intend to make the EPA do its job to protect our environment, our health and Toledo’s drinking water,” said Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator.

Algal blooms can produce toxins that make people and pets seriously ill when ingested, and can also harm aquatic species by poisoning water or using up oxygen to create “dead zones” in the lake. The algal blooms are caused by phosphorus pollution that primarily comes from manure and fertilizer running off of agricultural land.

“Without the impairment designation, Ohio is likely to continue relying on unenforceable, voluntary measures to reduce phosphorus pollution that won’t do enough to fix the problem,” said Fleisher

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Columbus Dispatch Letter to the Editor: Ohio Can Make School Days Healthier with a Jolt from VW Settlement Funds

Letter to the Editor

Governor Kasich and Ohio officials can now choose to help Ohio kids miss less school while reducing air pollution. Ohio will get $75 million from a Volkswagen settlement to reduce air pollution. Replacing diesel-powered school buses with clean electric ones can achieve both goals.

Over seven years, Volkswagen sold 600,000 diesel cars in the United States with engines programmed to trick emissions standards. As part of a settlement, nearly $3 billion in fines is going to states for pollution-reducing projects. On October 2, the clock started ticking for Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency to determine how it will spend our $75 million share. Replacing Ohio’s aging, dirty diesel school buses with electric buses is one of ten eligible ways Ohio can use this money.

More than 1 million Ohio kids in K-12 who ride the state’s 15,000 school buses would benefit.

Ohio should use this money on electric school buses for three reasons:

Healthier children. About 100,000-plus Ohio kids with asthma ride school buses. Diesel fumes seep into school bus cabins and can trigger asthma attacks. Asthma is a leading reason why kids miss school.

Healthier communities. Diesel buses emit a chemical cocktail near schools, playgrounds and homes. There is no air pollution from idling engines with electric buses because there are no emissions – and no tailpipe.

Healthier energy supply. School buses can tap the growing supply of renewable energy. Their batteries can charge overnight; their extra clean energy can feed the grid when needed.

More than 100 electric school buses are on North American roads. Columbus has committed to electrifying hundreds of its vehicle fleets. Ohio should commit a portion of its VW settlement funds for electric school buses. Governors putting VW money towards electric school buses would demonstrate leadership for health, the environment, our energy future and our children.

Professor and Coordinator
Environmental Health Science program
Department of Social and Public Health
Ohio University
Athens

Press Release: ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SEPTEMBER 14, 2017

ELPC Commends Full Funding for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative 

House Rejects Trump Administration’s Zeroing Out FY 2018 Budget for this Successful Program 

 

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

 

CHICAGO – Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in response to the U.S. House of Representatives’ approval of full funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) as part of the fiscal year 2018 budget:

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends the bipartisan legislators who worked together to reject the Trump Administration’s cuts and provide full funding of $300 million for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Learner said. “This program has supported more than 3,000 sensible projects to protect and restore the Great Lakes since 2011. That’s great value for all of us who live, work and play in the Great Lakes. We urge the U.S. Senate to include full funding as it considers the budget.”

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The Columbus Dispatch: AEP Ohio Incentive Plan Could Help Double Ohio’s Vehicle Charging Stations


Incentive Plan Could Help Double Ohio’s Vehicle Charging Stations
by Dan Gearino

August 30, 2017

The number of electric-vehicle charging stations in Ohio would be poised to double under a rebate proposal from American Electric Power and environmental groups.

If approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the $10 million plan would give incentives to apartment owners, businesses and others to build up to 375 charging stations in AEP territory in Ohio.

Ohio has 346 stations listed by the federal government’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. That number, which includes public and private locations, ranks Ohio 20th in the country, behind Midwestern neighbors such as Michigan and Pennsylvania.

“It’s a great step,” said Sam Spofforth, executive director of Clean Fuels Ohio, which advocates for reducing pollution from vehicle fuels. “All electricity customers will benefit from this.”

He expects broad benefits because of a decrease in air pollution and because the use of electricity as an automotive fuel will help to broaden the base for paying to maintain the electricity system.

The charging stations are a small part of an agreement that AEP and more than a dozen other parties are asking the PUCO to approve. AEP would receive several items it wants in exchange for making concessions to other groups that signed on to the deal.

AEP’s 1.3 million Ohio customers would pay for the charging-station rebates through a so-far unspecified charge in utility bills. And that is a concern for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, which opposes many parts of the rate plan.

“State regulators shouldn’t be asked to make a million consumers — most of whom don’t drive electric vehicles — pay to subsidize electric-vehicle charging through their AEP electric bills,” said Dan Doron, the office’s spokesman, in an e-mail.

Doron said an increase in charging stations should come instead from private investment in response to market demand.

Here’s how the rebate program would work:

‒ AEP would provide money to help pay for up to 300 “Level 2” charging stations, which is a step up from a basic charger. Three in 10 of the stations of this type would need to be in places that the public can access. The rest would be at workplaces, apartments and condominium complexes that might not be open to the public.

‒ The company also would offer rebates for up to 75 “DC Fast” charging stations, which work much faster than a Level 2 charger. All of these stations would be open to the public.

‒ The rebates would range from 50 percent to 100 percent of the costs involved in installing the stations; the highest rebates would be reserved for locations available to the public at government-owned properties.

AEP would not own the stations but would be able to collect a 5 percent fee for administering the rebates, and the AEP name would appear at the stations.

The station owner would be required to share charging data with AEP, including the prices charged for electricity. This data, aggregated to obscure personal information of consumers, would be available to researchers who want to study usage patterns.

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Press Release: AEP Ohio Settlement Plan Includes $10 Million Electric Vehicle Charging Station Rebate Program

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                              

August 28, 2017                                                                                         

                                                                                            

 

 AEP Ohio Settlement Plan includes $10 Million Electric Vehicle Charging Station Rebate Program 

ELPC and other enviro groups say program could boost EV car sales, encourage more U.S. investment in electric car technologies and reduce charging rates 

Columbus, Ohio — AEP Ohio late Friday filed a settlement plan with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that includes a $10 million electric vehicle charging station rebate program that will strengthen the charging infrastructure needed to get more EVs on the road.

“Installing hundreds of charging stations through the settlement plan has the potential to put Columbus on the map as a leader in bringing more electric vehicles to the Midwest,” said Robert Kelter, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Getting more electric vehicles on the road will reduce air pollution, encourage American companies to invest more in EV technologies, and reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels.”

AEP Ohio will create and operate the rebate incentive program, which will cover costs for up to 300 Level 2 charging stations and 75 DC Fast charging stations. This program supports the Smart Columbus Initiative.

“This settlement is great news and a great opportunity for everyone in AEP’s service territory,” Clean Fuels Ohio Executive Director Sam Spofforth said.  “This is a strong first step but it’s only a first step.  This program will provide everyone, including the PUCO, the opportunity to see what works here in Ohio.

At least 10% of both the Level 2 and DC Fast charging stations will be set aside for low-income geographic areas. In addition, charging stations will be allocated to public locations, workplace charging, and multi-unit dwellings.

The settlement plan calls for three or more hardware and software charging station companies to participate in the program.

“We hope having more charging station companies in the program will jumpstart competition and lead to a competitive market where charging prices are driven down,” said ELPC’s Kelter.

AEP filed this case to extend its current “Electric Security Plan” for providing service to Ohio customers through 2024. The plan could be approved by late 2017 or early 2018.

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The Detroit News: ELPC’s Learner says “This isn’t the Time for Halfway Measures” to Protect the Great Lakes from Asian Carp

The Detroit News

Army Corps Unveils $275 Million Plan to Battle Asian Carp
By Melissa Nann Burke

Environmental groups and Gov. Rick Snyder demanded immediate action on Monday after the Trump administration released a long-awaited report on a $275 million plan to control the invasive Asian carp before it reaches the Great Lakes.

The report by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lays out tentative measures that include installing a new electric barrier to repel or stun the destructive fish and underwater speakers generating “complex noise” to deter them from traveling beyond the lock and dam at Brandon Road near Joliet, Illinois. It came after five months of prodding from bipartisan members of the Michigan delegation and others.

The Army Corps stopped short of recommending closure of the Brandon Road lock, citing the potential economic impact on the barge and shipping industry.

Snyder said Monday that steps laid out in the report “must be taken” to stop the advancing Asian carp, calling for “immediate, decisive action.”

“It is time for all the Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces — and all who care about the lakes — to come together to demand action at Brandon Road Lock and Dam, a critical pinch point for stopping invasive carp,” he said.

But construction is likely years away. The agency will collect public comments for 45 days, then begin a feasibility study, followed by reviews by federal and state agencies and a Chief of Engineers report, which is not expected until August 2019.

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