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.