Editorial: A Crusade for Lake Erie
Lake Erie has found a champion in U.S. District Judge James Carr. The judge last week ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has some answering to do for the way it handled the Ohio’s seemingly lax oversight of the lake’s environmental well-being.
Even though Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio EPA finally relented last month and admitted that Lake Erie is so polluted that it qualifies as impaired under the terms of the Clean Water Act, Judge Carr is pressing forward.
Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie filed the lawsuit last year to force just such a designation. Invoking federal law should trigger federal oversight of a Lake Erie cleanup, which should have more teeth than the voluntary measures the Kasich administration has insisted for years will be enough to solve the pollution problem.
But even though the U.S. EPA has instructed Ohio officials to revisit their science on the matter and Ohio authorities have given Lake Erie the impaired label the lawsuit’s plaintiffs were seeking, Judge Carr is not ready to call the case closed.
He has taken both agencies to task and signaled that he intends to retain jurisdiction over the case. If the environmental regulators who are supposed to recognize pollution fouling the source of drinking water for millions of Great Lakes residents do not, apparently the judge is ready to take on that watchdog role.
And even though the impairment designation was an important step, it was just the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process of cleaning up the lake.
The phosphorus pouring out into the open lake each year has fueled toxic algae blooms that threaten Lake Erie’s sport fishing and tourism, Toledo’s drinking water, the region’s economic revitalization, and our quality of life.
Agricultural runoff is the main culprit in this phosphorus runoff, but tracking exactly how much comes from where in the watershed of the lake’s western basin will require study. More than that, setting limits on this pollution and helping farmers meet them will be no easy task.
The Kasich administration wants the General Assembly to expand the definition of agricultural pollution to include phosphorus runoff. This would give the state’s agriculture department more authority and also would allow the state to set phosphorus limits in ways it cannot do now.
Predictably, the state’s powerful agricultural lobby is already pushing back, calling regulation premature and recommending more study and a slower pace.
Ohio’s farmers need a healthy Lake Erie with drinkable, fishable, swimmable water too. And Lake Erie is going to need more than one champion. Now it is time for a few lawmakers in Columbus to join Judge Carr’s cause.