June 22, 2018
Farmers Grow Worried as Kasich Eyes Them for Lake Erie Cleanup
By Alex Ebert
Voluntary programs to curb the fertilizers feeding toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie have failed, and now Ohio’s Republican governor is pushing a bill to clamp down on farmers ahead of a lawsuit seeking federal standards instead.
Gov. John Kasich is floating proposed legislation that would empower the state Agriculture Department to impose farm-by-farm nutrient plans to minimize runoff into rivers that flow into Lake Erie. If the state’s Republican-led Legislature balks, Kasich will consider issuing new regulations through executive order instead, Ohio EPA spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer told Bloomberg Environment June 20.
Lake Erie experienced significant algal blooms in recent years, including in 2013 and 2014 when people got sick from drinking water in the Toledo, Ohio, area. Kasich’s plan comes as environmental groups are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency to force it to impose federal standards to limit the amount of phosphorus washing into the lake. The governor’s push threatens to pit the Republican against the state’s farmers, who favor voluntary programs instead and argue they’re already heavily regulated.
But those programs haven’t worked, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said in June 19 testimony before a House committee. The state EPA doesn’t have the authority to regulate farms, which contributed 80 percent of the commercial fertilizer that flows into Lake Erie. Kasich’s proposed bill would direct the Agriculture Department to establish rules for “watersheds in distress.” That would require nutrient management plans that address fertilizer use by farms in Lake Erie’s watersheds.
That plan already faces opposition from farmers and some members of Kasich’s own party.