Ohio

New Report Finds Trump Cutbacks Weaken EPA Region 5’s Clean Water Act Enforcement

New Report Finds Trump EPA Policies and Funding Cutbacks Weaken
EPA Region 5’s Clean Water Act Enforcement Responsibilities

ELPC analysis shows EPA’s declining enforcement corresponds with rise in significant noncompliance

Chicago – A new report by the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found the U.S. EPA has backed off its enforcement responsibilities under the Clean Water Act for the Great Lakes region. In a multi-year analysis, ELPC found shrinking enforcement budgets, declining staff levels, and drops in enforcement with a corresponding rise in industrial polluters’ noncompliance with the Clean Water Act requirements.

ELPC reviewed and analyzed publicly-available national EPA data, as well as enforcement data for EPA’s Region 5 office, which oversees six Great Lakes states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The report’s findings are being released just as U.S. EPA announced a nationwide relaxation of environmental enforcement covering industries and public facilities across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Trump Administration’s policies and budget actions are constricting EPA Region 5’s ability to fully and fairly enforce the Clean Water Act protections for safe, clean water in the Midwest,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director. “During the COVID-19 public health crisis, the Trump EPA is making a bad problem worse by stepping back from sound enforcement that is important for protecting public health and the Great Lakes, which the public overwhelmingly supports.”

Adjusting for inflation, federal appropriations for EPA’s enforcement activities and staff levels have been declining since 2012, but during the Obama administration, EPA sometimes spent more than its allocated budget. In contrast, the Trump administration’s EPA is now spending even less on enforcement and compliance activities than appropriated by Congress.

“With diminishing funds and declining staff, Region 5 career personnel are enforcing the Clean Water Act with one arm tied behind their back,” said Jeff Hammons, Staff Attorney and report co-author. “Career staff want to do their best work, but they’re hamstrung when Congress and the Trump administration give them less funding each year when adjusted for inflation.”

The report also found a sharp drop in what Clean Water Act violators are paying in penalties or spending on compliance under President Trump’s leadership.

“A minor slap on the wrist offers little deterrence for facilities that might violate the Clean Water Act in the future,” said Kiana Courtney, Associate Attorney at ELPC and report co-author. “Civil penalties or compliance costs for bad actors should be higher and be more than just the cost of doing business.”

Ohio EPA Commits to Regulatory Standards to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution and Toxic Algae in Lake Erie

ELPC Statement on Ohio EPA Draft Report Committing to Total Maximum Daily Loads, Regulatory Standards to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution and Toxic Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) and one of the attorneys for Plaintiffs in the Lake Erie clean water litigation in federal court, said in response to Ohio EPA releasing its draft 2020 Water Quality Report, which includes a commitment to prepare a Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for reducing manure and fertilizer pollution into western Lake Erie:

“Ohio EPA’s draft plan is an important step in the right direction. This is a watershed moment. The Ohio EPA is recognizing the reality that TMDLs are required by the federal Clean Water Act and are necessary to alleviate western Lake Erie’s toxic algae bloom problems. The devil will be in the details in how Ohio EPA sets up the plan and how soon it can make a difference. The Ohio EPA’s TMDLs should be strong, enforceable, and implemented sooner rather than later to be effective in addressing the toxic algae outbreak problems.

“The U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio has made clear: Lake Erie is impaired by toxic algae outbreaks and TMDLs are required by the Clean Water Act to reduce the phosphorus pollution that is causing them.

“The public and northwest Ohio public officials are saying ‘enough is enough’ of severe toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie nearly every summer. ELPC will continue our effective legal advocacy until sufficient enforceable protections are in place and western Lake Erie water is cleaner. The stakes are too high for anything less.”

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New Poll Reveals NW Ohioans’ Willingness to Support Regulatory Actions on Large Animal Feeding Operations to Reduce Toxic Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

New Poll Reveals NW Ohioans’ Willingness to Support Regulatory Actions on Large Animal Feeding Operations to Reduce Toxic Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

Gov. DeWine must keep Ohio’s promise and commitment under Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to reduce phosphorus in Lake Erie by 40% by 2025 and 20% progress by 2020

CHICAGO – Nationally-recognized pollster J. Ann Selzer‘s new poll of 500 voters in northwest Ohio for the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) found that after respondents learn about the connection of manure runoff pollution from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), they support regulatory actions to help alleviate the toxic algae blooms impacting safe clean water in Lake Erie. Specifically, the majority of respondents were willing to support a moratorium on new or expanding CAFOs as well as regulations on permitting existing CAFOs. Issues around safe clean water and the impact on the Great Lakes economy resonated strongly among respondents. And a majority said they would consider this issue when it comes time to vote.

“The poll results show that Ohioans are fed up with toxic algae blooms in western Lake Erie and understand that reducing manure runoff pollution from CAFOs is necessary to achieve safe clean water,” said Howard Learner, Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Governor DeWine must keep Ohio’s promise and commitment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to reduce phosphorus entering Lake Erie by 40% by 2025 with a 20% reduction for interim progress by 2020.”

The poll results show:

  • Safe clean water is the #1 issue for people (92%)
  • While people have generally heard about algae blooms, they initially don’t know much about the causes, or about CAFO’s, or if CAFOs are regulated.
  • After the participants hear the pro and con arguments about reducing manure runoff pollution from CAFOs, their willingness to support a moratorium grows to 59%.
  • 59% also favoring expanding the permitting process to include more CAFOs.
  • When considering who to vote for, 59% said they would lean towards the candidate who favors a moratorium of and more regulation on CAFOs.

Phosphorus pollution from agricultural runoff – excess fertilizer from crops, and manure from CAFOs — is considered the largest cause of harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie. The Ohio EPA’s analysis found that the agricultural sector is responsible for 88% of the phosphorus pollution in the Maumee River watershed entering Western Lake Erie. Although crop fertilizer is widely cited as the main culprit, a report ELPC released this spring with the Environmental Working Group showed the significant growth of CAFOs and manure runoff from those operations into the Maumee River watershed plays a much larger role in algae bloom formations in western Lake Erie than was previously known. Moreover, ELPC’s methodology for the report using publicly-available satellite imagery revealed many identified CAFOs are not permitted by Ohio’s Department of Agriculture.

The recent poll results show that when Ohioans learn more about the growth of CAFOs and their manure runoff contributing to the algae bloom problem, voters will support Ohio public officials that back actions that include freezes on new CAFOs. The poll reflects the views of 500 Ohioans from Erie, Lucas, Ottawa and Sandusky Counties, who represent a broad cross-section of the population and political parties.

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ELPC Commends Congress’ Bipartisan Support to Reauthorize and Increase Funding for Successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes
(312) 795-3706
JNemes@elpc.org
 

ELPC Commends Congress’ Bipartisan Support to Reauthorize and Increase Funding for Successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative over Next Five Years

“Protecting safe clean drinking water, healthy fisheries and enjoyable outdoor recreation for all is not a partisan issue”

 STATEMENT BY HOWARD A. LEARNER

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ENVIRONMENTAL LAW & POLICY CENTER

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center commends bipartisan Congress leaders for taking a big step forward to reauthorize and increase funding for the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The Great Lakes is where we live, work and play. Protecting safe clean drinking water, healthy fisheries and enjoyable outdoor recreation for all is not a partisan issue.”

“The Great Lakes provide drinking water to 42 million people. Reauthorizing GLRI for the next five years with increased funding is necessary to combat harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie, Green Bay and Lake Superior, and threats of invasive species throughout the Great Lakes. More intense rain storms driven by climate change create significantly more stress on Great Lakes infrastructure and the ecosystem. The best defense is a good offense.

“The next five-year GLRI funding cycle, beginning in 2022, should ramp up to $475 million annually during that time from the current $300 million annual allocation. The funding increase would bring the program back to the original FY 2010 level of $475 million.

“Trump’s War on the Great Lakes must be kept in check since his administration attempted to either eliminate or cut funds for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative over the last three years. The administration fails to address toxic algae blooms by not requiring enforceable regulatory standards to reduce agricultural runoff of phosphorus pollution from manure and fertilizers that impairs safe clean drinking water for millions of people.

“Great Lakes protection and restoration has strong bipartisan support. Protecting clean water for fisheries and outdoor recreation and ensuring safe drinking water for all is not a partisan issue in the pivotal Midwest states where the 2020 election may be decided. Great Lakes protection is a core value shared by all.

“Since GLRI was launched in 2010, it has provided essential funding to protect and restore the largest system of fresh surface water in the world. GLRI projects also protect safe clean drinking water for 42 million people and support a $62 billion economy based on fishing, boating and recreational activities.”

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ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution in Western Lake Erie

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706, JNemes@elpc.org

ELPC Sues US EPA for Compliance Plan to Reduce Phosphorus Pollution That Creates Harmful Algae Blooms in Western Lake Erie

ELPC asks Court to keep EPA on Schedule to Clean Up Lake Erie

Toledo, OH – The Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) today filed a new related lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio challenging the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s approval of an Ohio EPA July 2018 report as legally inadequate. The Ohio EPA’s 2018 report provided no effective plan for reducing phosphorus pollution into western Lake Erie which is now designated as “impaired” waters under the Clean Water Act.

ELPC and co-plaintiff Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE) are seeking a judicial remedy providing a compliance plan to require progress on a specific timeline to reduce phosphorus pollution in western Lake Erie by 2025, and provide for public accountability. Phosphorus in manure and fertilizer runoff from agricultural sources is the principal cause of harmful algal blooms that have plagued Lake Erie for many years.

“The Clean Water Act provides a specific legal pathway to reduce phosphorus pollution causing harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie, but U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA refuse to follow the law,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director. “The Court should require EPA to do its job well by promptly adopting and implementing an effective Clean Water Act plan to limit manure and fertilizer runoff that causes harmful algal blooms.”

The Clean Water Act requires an effective plan that implements a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) cap to limit pollution discharges into the Maumee River system, which flows into western Lake Erie. But Ohio EPA argues that it must only follow the non-binding Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement instead of a TMDL with enforceable regulatory standards.

Neither U.S. EPA nor Ohio EPA have followed the TMDL process to reduce pollution of manure from industrial animal feedlots and fertilizers from large agricultural operations that run off into rivers and streams that eventually result in phosphorus entering into Lake Erie.

“The Court has an important role to play in making sure Ohio doesn’t waste more time delaying effective measures to protect Lake Erie from pollution,” said Madeline Fleisher, ELPC Senior Attorney. “U.S. EPA isn’t holding the state accountable so we’re asking the court to do so.”

“The Clean Water Act is the law of the land, but Ohio keeps trying to escape its legal obligation to protect Lake Erie from factory farm pollution,” said Mike Ferner, a coordinator at ACLE. “The state has said western Lake Erie is one of its highest priorities, and the court shouldn’t let Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA get away with simply lip service.”

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Midwest Energy News: Coal Closings May Undermine FirstEnergy’s Attempt to Shift Plant to Bankrupt Subsidiary


Coal Closings May Undermine FirstEnergy’s Attempt to Shift Plant to Bankrupt Subsidiary

By Kathiann M. Kowalski

FirstEnergy wants to transfer a West Virginia coal plant into its bankrupt subsidiary’s portfolio, but the justification for the move is in doubt as the company seeks other coal plant closures.

On August 26, FirstEnergy Solutions’ Chief Restructuring Officer Charles Moore told the bankruptcy court in Ohio that “another coal-fired power station … would add purchasing power to enhance the value to the Debtors’ enterprise.”

Yet FirstEnergy had already scheduled the Pleasants Power Station in West Virginia to close next year.

And just three days after Moore’s declaration, FirstEnergy Solutions announced it would close the Eastlake coal plant and remaining coal and diesel units at the Sammis plant in Ohio, along with 2,490 megawatts of capacity at the Bruce Mansfield coal plant in Pennsylvania.

Environmental advocates welcomed the shutdown news. “This will mark the end of FirstEnergy’s coal portfolio in the state of Ohio,” said Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

First Energy Solutions President Don Moul said in an August 29 press release announcing the latest planned closures: “As with nuclear, our fossil-fueled plants face the insurmountable challenge of a market that does not sufficiently value their contribution to the security and flexibility of our power system.”

At the same time, the company could reverse its decision if the federal government mandates support for fossil and nuclear generating plants.

Either way, the timing raises questions about who benefits from the proposed transfer, and how it might affect consumers or taxpayers.

“What’s good for FirstEnergy here is not necessarily good for the public,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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Toledo Blade: Lake Erie Foundation Seeks to Join Landmark Lawsuit

Lake Erie Foundation Seeks to Join Landmark Lawsuit 
By Tom Henry

The 500-member Lake Erie Foundation is the latest group trying to become co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit calling upon Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr to order the most comprehensive cleanup strategy for western Lake Erie.

The foundation is a nonprofit formed in 2016 when Lake Erie Waterkeeper and the Lake Erie Improvement Association were combined.

In a document filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, the group joined the cities of Toledo and Oregon in making a near-identical request to become co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit two groups — the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie — brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2017.

The latter two groups have contended all along that the U.S. EPA has not been living up to requirements for Lake Erie that were established by Congress under the federal Clean Water Act back in 1972.

 

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Toledo Blade: Toledo, Oregon Become Parties to ELPC Lawsuit against US EPA for Stronger Lake Erie Protections

Toledo, Oregon Push for Stronger Lake Erie Protections
By Tom Henry

Toledo and Oregon have become parties to a lawsuit filed by two groups that calls upon U.S. District Judge James G. Carr to order the most comprehensive cleanup strategy for western Lake Erie, known as a total maximum daily load.

The next court date is Aug. 21.

The U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is opposed.

The two plaintiffs, the Midwestern-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, contend the federal Clean Water Act requires the highly aggressive TMDL cleanup strategy to be followed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency once the Kasich administration finally relented in March — after years of resistance — and declared western Lake Erie’s open waters to be impaired.

They want the judge to impose a TMDL order on the U.S. EPA, with the understanding the federal agency would then require the Ohio EPA to carry out the program.

Toledo’s decision to get involved dates back to May 1, 2017, a day before Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz announced his candidacy for that office.

During an all-day tour of southeast Michigan factory farms, Mr. Kapszukiewicz, a Democrat, told The Blade there were two things he would do if elected: First, call for the impairment status and, second, have Toledo assist the two plaintiffs in their lawsuit.

He never had to call for the impairment status once elected because former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson — a Democrat who had long sided with the Kasich administration on that issue — had a sudden change of heart last September, weeks before the election, after a thick blanket of algae appeared in downtown Toledo just as ProMedica was preparing for a major regatta near Promenade Park.

“I campaigned on cleaning up the lake and we are following through on that today by filing this motion,” Mr. Kapszukiewicz said in his prepared remarks Friday, referring to a court filing known as an amicus brief.

“We need to hold the nonpoint sources accountable and this is one way we can do it. We support the efforts of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and Mike Ferner, who has pushed for years to get tougher regulations for polluters,” the statement said.

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The Blade: U.S. EPA Accused of Procedural ‘Sleight-of-Hand’ over Western Lake Erie Algae Cleanup Strategy

U.S. EPA Accused of Procedural ‘Sleight-of-Hand’ over Western Lake Erie Algae Cleanup Strategy
By Tom Henry

In the latest volley of a high-stakes lawsuit that could affect the future of western Lake Erie, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being accused of playing games and “once again engaging in [a] procedural sleight-of-hand” while also letting the state of Ohio give “lip service” to the idea that it’ll someday enact the most aggressive cleanup strategy.

The accusations were leveled in a U.S. District Court brief filed Tuesday by the Environmental Law & Policy Center and its co-plaintiff, Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie.

The two groups, through its lawsuit against the U.S. EPA, forced the Ohio EPA earlier this year to designate western Lake Erie as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act, ending the Kasich administration’s years of resistance on behalf of agriculture. They have implored Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of Toledo to stick with the case so the designation does not just become symbolic.

Madeline Fleisher, an ELPC attorney based in Columbus, stated in the opening line of her brief that the U.S. EPA “is once again engaging in [a] procedural sleight-of-hand in an attempt to obscure the substance of this case,” almost echoing an admonishment the judge made in a 25-page order back in April when he accused the two regulatory agencies of botching the Lake Erie impairment controversy and, at one point, accused the U.S. EPA of demonstrating a “whiff of bad faith.”

 

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WOSU: Bill Would Let Companies Opt Out Of Weaker Renewable Energy Standards

June 26, 2018
Bill Would Let Companies Opt Out Of Weaker Renewable Energy Standards
By Andy Chow

A bill that would overhaul the way Ohio mandates the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency is likely to get a vote in the Senate this week.

The bill would take the amount of renewable energy the state requires to be on the grid, and cut it by a third.

The measure gives more companies the ability to opt out of energy efficiency standards.

Robert Kelter with the Environmental Law and Policy Center says companies that opt out will end up spending more money on their electric bills which will have a ripple effect on all Ohioans.

“It would allow energy customers who really don’t have the knowledge or the expertise about energy efficiency to make the efficiency investments that they should be making,” Kelter said.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce defends the opt out provision arguing that it allows companies to make energy decisions based on marketplace demands.

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