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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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Associated Press: ELPC’s Learner says It’s “Time for Serious Preventative Actions to Keep Asian Carp Out of the Great Lakes”

Report Proposes Steps to Keep Asian Carp out of Great Lakes
By John Flesher

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — A federal report released Monday proposes a $275 million array of technological and structural upgrades at a crucial site in Illinois to prevent invasive Asian carp from reaching the Great Lakes and its vulnerable fish populations.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlined its tentative plan in a report that had been scheduled for release in February but was delayed by the Trump administration, drawing criticism from members of Congress and environmental groups.

It analyzes options for upgrading the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, a complex on the Des Plaines River southwest of Chicago that is considered a bottleneck where defenses could be strengthened to prevent carp populations in the Mississippi River watershed from migrating into Lake Michigan.

Scientists say if the large, voracious carp become established in the Great Lakes, they could devastate the region’s $7 billion fishing industry by crowding out native species.

The Army corps said the plan outlined in the 488-page document is intended to block the path of invasive species “while minimizing impacts to waterway uses and users.” Elected officials and business leaders in Illinois and Indiana have said that significant changes to the Brandon Road complex could hamper cargo shipment on the busy waterway.

Among technologies the report endorses is using sound systems to create “complex noise” underwater that would deter fish from the Brandon Road area, plus installing a new approach channel and placing an electric barrier at its downstream end that would repel fish and stun them if they get too close. Brandon Road is several miles downstream from an existing barrier network.

Other measures would include installing water jets to wash away “small and stunned fish” that might be caught up around barges, plus a new lock where floating invasive species could be flushed away.

The report says the federal government would pay 65 percent of the costs project’s costs, with the rest coming from a “non-federal sponsor.”

The corps will take public comments on the report until Sept. 21. After a feasibility study and series of federal and state reviews, a final report is scheduled for release in August 2019. Congressional approval and funding would be required to get construction underway.

“The Army Corps report makes clear that it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “The ecological and economic costs of further delays are not sensible or acceptable.”

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Toledo Blade: Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes

Report Proposes Plan to Deter Asian Carp From Entering Great Lakes
by Tom Henry

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is recommending the electrical barrier near Chicago that has been used to deter Asian carp from entering Lake Michigan be augmented with complex noise, water jets, an engineered channel, and other structural improvements such as a flushing lock, and a mooring area.

The Corps is not recommending a complete separation of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River watersheds, as many Great Lakes scientists and policy-makers, such as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) have urged for years to provide optimal protection for the region’s $7 billion fishery. The issue has long pitted the Chicago-area shipping industry and Lake Erie sportsmen. The shipping industry wants the status quo while Lake Erie – which spawns more fish than the rest of the Great Lakes combined – could have the most to lose if Asian carp are able to colonize the lake system, regardless of the entry point.

The long-awaited, 488-page Corps report went online Monday at http://bit.ly/2vIibCN. Miss Kaptur pushed for its release after the Great Lakes congressional delegation learned the study was completed in early 2017 but that the Trump administration was keeping it from being made public.

Six alternatives were considered.

The Corps would pay for 65 percent of the estimated $275 million of work outlined, or $179 million. The other $96 million would be paid by non-federal sources. The focus area for the work is the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill.

In its report, the Corps called its plan the “Technology Alternative – Complex Noise with Electric Barrier” plan.

That option is recommended “because it meets the project objective by reducing the risk of Mississippi River basin [aquatic invasive species] establishment in the Great Lakes basin to the maximum extent possible, and it provides for continued navigation,” the Corps said in its report, adding that the plan “will be most effective if the electric dispersal barrier operates continuously at optimal parameters to deter fish.”

The Corps is taking comments on its recommendation until Sept. 21. It is making plans for two public meetings.

On June 22, a silver Asian carp – the type so sensitive to boat motor vibrations they flop out of water – was found nine miles from Lake Michigan near the T.J. O’Brien Lock and Dam, upstream from a series of electrical barriers designed to keep it out.

Howard Learner, Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center director, said the report “makes clear it’s time for serious preventative actions to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.”

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Great Lakes Now: Chicago Group Files Suit Over Lake Erie Pollution

Great Lakes Now

Chicago Group Files Suit Over Lake Erie Pollution

By Gary Wilson

With the peak algae season nearing, pressure is mounting on the federal government and Ohio to be more aggressive in combating nutrient pollution from farms that discharge to Lake Erie.

Last week the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) filed suit in Ohio alleging that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failed to protect Lake Erie by not holding Ohio to its obligations under the Clean Water Act.

Specifically, the suit alleges that U.S. EPA should have disapproved Ohio’s list of officially designated “impaired waters” because western Lake Erie was not included.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said attorney Madeline Fleisher in an ELPC press release. Fleisher is based in Columbus, Ohio.

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WATCH Gary Wilson’s interview with ELPC’s Kevin Brubaker

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Environmentalists Sue EPA to Designate Ohio’s Portion of Lake Erie ‘impaired’

Environmentalists Sue EPA to Designate Ohio’s Portion of Lake Erie as “Impaired”

By Eric Heisig

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Advocacy groups are challenging the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to accept Ohio’s assertion that its portion of Lake Erie does not meet the definition of impaired waters.

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

The federal EPA approved the list May 17 and both the state and federal agencies’ decisions were met with criticism from environmentalists who say the designation is necessary to curb the encroachment of harmful algal blooms.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie contends in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the federal EPA’s decision violates the Clean Water Act. More confounding is that the list of impaired waterways the state of Michigan submitted to the federal EPA included its portion of Lake Erie, and the agency approved Michigan’s list, the suit says.

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Sandusky (Ohio) Register: ELPC & Others Sue to Have Lake Erie Declared ‘Impaired’

Sandusky Register

Groups Sue to Have Lake Erie Declared “Impaired”

by Tom Jackson

SANDUSKY — Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Toledo, seeking to have the open waters of Lake Erie declared “impaired” under the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit essentially seeks to overturn the U.S. EPA’s decision to approve a declaration by the Ohio EPA that the open waters of the lake are not impaired. Michigan, however, has declared that the lake is impaired.

The groups argue that harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, an annual event, have impaired the lake’s waters. Hundreds of thousands of people in Toledo were told not to drink the water in August 2014 after toxins from that year’s HAB poisoned the water supply.

An attorney involved in the lawsuit says that designating the lake as impaired would force stronger action to deal with harmful algal blooms.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio, for the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

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Greenwire: Enviros Sue EPA Over Approving Ohio’s Lake Erie Plan

Greenwire
Enviros sue EPA over approving Ohio’s Lake Erie plan
By Ariel Wittenberg

In May, EPA approved Ohio EPA’s 2016 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report, which found that certain sections of Lake Erie were “impaired,” a designation that has legal implications under the Clean Water Act.

Groups sued EPA to force a decision on the report. Now the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie are challenging that approval, filing a complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

The groups say that Ohio wrongly limited its impairment finding to shorelines and areas near drinking water intakes and that the open waters of Lake Erie are also impaired by the toxic algae blooms that have plagued the lake for many years. EPA, they say, approved Ohio’s determination without enough analysis.

“U.S. EPA rubber-stamped something that Ohio did that is not going to protect water quality in Lake Erie and isn’t fully recognizing a serious problem that the federal government is supposed to have a role in solving,” said a statement.

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PRESS RELEASE: Environmental Groups Sue EPA for Rubber-stamping Ohio EPA’s Refusal to Call Open Waters of Lake Erie “Impaired”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          Contact: Judith Nemes

July 18, 2017                                                                                                                                                                               

 Environmental Groups Sue EPA for Rubber-stamping Ohio EPA’s Refusal to Call Open Waters of Lake Erie “Impaired”

 ELPC warns nutrient pollution reduction won’t occur without comprehensive approach to algal bloom problem

Toledo, OH – Today, the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and co-plaintiffs Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE), Susan Matz, and Michael Ferner sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a federal court in Ohio to challenge its decision to approve Ohio EPA’s refusal to assess whether the open waters of Lake Erie are “impaired” under the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in Toledo against the EPA, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Acting Regional Administrator Robert Kaplan. The environmental groups charge the open waters of Lake Erie should be designated impaired under the Clean Water Act because harmful algal blooms that form there most years are preventing those waters from meeting basic state water quality standards.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has already designated the entire neighboring portion of Lake Erie within its boundaries as “impaired” by the same algal blooms.

“U.S. EPA illegally gave Ohio a pass on its obligation to recognize that harmful algal blooms are impacting more than just a few limited areas of Lake Erie,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC’s staff attorney in Columbus, Ohio. “The impairment designation is a key first step in the Clean Water Act’s process for addressing serious water quality issues. 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.”

Ohio EPA recognized that algal bloom problems are impairing Lake Erie’s shoreline and areas which are used as a source of public drinking water. However, the agency refused to address the algal blooms’ effects on the full extent of the lake’s waters even though it’s a single water body.

The 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.

“The lake isn’t ‘sort of’ impaired in a couple places — it’s impaired throughout the western basin,” said Mike Ferner, ACLE coordinator. “Public officials need to acknowledge it will take mandatory steps to get Lake Erie back to health. Toledo spent tens of millions of dollars on chemicals and new facilities to decontaminate our drinking water after hundreds of factory farms in the watershed use it as their toilet.”

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.

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Christian Science Monitor: Battle Over the Clean Water Rule; What’s at Stake?

Christian Science Monitor

Battle over the Clean Water Rule: What’s at stake?

By Amanda Paulson

Just who gets to regulate America’s many seasonal streams and wetlands?

That’s a question that has long been contentious.

At the end of June, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt formally proposed revoking the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the US” rule, or WOTUS.

Mr. Pruitt was acting on an executive order signed by President Trump back in February. And depending on whom you talk to, the move to repeal the rule is either an environmental disaster that opens up America’s waterways to pollution and development and puts Americans’ drinking water at risk, or a common-sense action that gets rid of a rule particularly despised by many farmers, ranchers, and developers and returns regulatory authority to states.

Q: What is the rule?

The term “Waters of the United States” comes from the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act. The 2015 Clean Water Rule was designed to provide long-sought guidance on just which “navigable waters” fall under federal jurisdiction and are covered by the protections in that act.

Some waters, including permanent rivers and streams, clearly meet the definition. But many wetlands, seasonal streams, and ditches don’t necessarily qualify: They’re not connected to US waterways much of the time, even though they may ultimately feed into them.

In a 2006 US Supreme Court ruling to determine the jurisdiction, Rapanos v. United States, the court was split. Four conservative justices, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, offered a constrained definition that includes only “relatively permanent bodies of water.” Justice Anthony Kennedy concurred, but added that it should also include wetlands and intermittent streams that have a “significant nexus” to those waters – an opinion that has largely governed decisions since.

The Clean Water Rule carried over existing exemptions for things like agriculture and ranching. It has never taken effect, as lawsuits from states (including one involving Mr. Pruitt when he was Oklahoma attorney general) are working their way through the courts.

Q: What change is the EPA proposing?

The rule the EPA has put forward – currently in the 30-day comment period – would mean going back to the standards used 10 years ago. Since the Clean Water Rule is currently under a stay, it wouldn’t actually change practice on the ground.

There’s also some question about whether the repeal is fully legal – and it’s likely to be challenged in court. The EPA “can’t declare that within 30 days it’s going to stop following the law and ignore the standards that have been adopted” through long-standing administrative procedure, says Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which supports the Clean Water Rule.

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Crain’s Chicago Business: House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

House Panel Rejects Trump’s Great Lakes Cuts

By Greg Hinz

With a big assist from a bipartisan pair of lawmakers from Ohio, it looks like plans by the Trump administration to slash funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are on the way to being derailed.

As previously reported, Trump proposed cutting the program—which pays for everything from sewage treatment plants in Milwaukee and water-permeable concrete in Uptown to electronic barriers to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan—a whopping 97 percent. Trump aides said that and other kinds of spending have to go to make room for tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

​ But yesterday, GOP Rep. David Joyce and Democratic colleague Marie Kaptur, both from the Toledo area, convinced the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies to include the normal $300 million in the pending fiscal 2018 federal budget.

The action is only “a first step,” said Howard Learner, head of the Environmental Law & Policy Center here. But the full appropriations committee likely will go along with the subcommittee, and traditionally so does the full House. It’s worth noting that House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin comes from a lakefront district.

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