Ohio

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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Toledo Blade: Judge Says He May Back Away from Lake Erie Algae Lawsuit

Judge Says He May Back Away from Lake Erie Algae Lawsuit
By Tom Henry

While still clearly disgusted by the lack of progress toward solving western Lake Erie’s chronic algae problem, U.S. District Judge James Carr has left open the possibility of eventually backing away from the case in front of him — but only if there comes a point in time in which state and federal agencies convince him they are taking the public health threat seriously enough.

Right now, the judge said, they’re not.

Throughout a two-hour discussion in open court Wednesday with lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, Judge Carr underscored his desire to see the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its state partner, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, become “truly aggressive” and said they “should treat this as a grave condition.”

But Judge Carr, who in an April 10 filing accused those two agencies of botching the Lake Erie impairment controversy, also broadened his appeal to members of the Ohio General Assembly — especially conservatives who have made it virtually impossible to pass stricter rules on agriculture. He likewise implored agencies such as the Ohio Department of Agriculture to make algae-prevention their No. 1 priority.

Nobody, he said, can dispute Lake Erie is “sick.”

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Cleveland Plain Dealer: FirstEnergy Must Guarantee Nuclear Clean Up, Environmental Groups Tell Feds

FirstEnergy must guarantee nuclear clean up, environmental groups tell feds
By John Funk

CLEVELAND, Ohio – FirstEnergy’s power plant subsidiaries have not put enough money into federally mandated decommissioning trust funds to pay for the shutdown and cleanup of each of its four nuclear reactors, charges an environmental group with a reputation as a legally effective environmental advocate.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, or ELPC, made that charge in a petition filed in March with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The ELPC’s intervention in the Peabody Energy bankruptcy led to the court requiring that company to purchase $1.2 billion in surety bonds to guarantee clean up.

The ELPC wants the NRC to hold parent company FirstEnergy Corp. responsible for bankrolling what it argues could well be a multi-billion reactor cleanup shortfall, which taxpayers or customers could be forced to pay.

The ELPC petitioned the NRC just days before the FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. filed for bankruptcy protection on March 31 and the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. told the NRC it would close its nuclear plants within two years.

Now the ELPC, joined by the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, the Ohio Environmental Council and Ohio Citizen Action, have intervened in the bankruptcy case under way in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

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InsideClimate News: Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop

May 15, 2018
Toxic Algae Blooms Occurring More Often, May Be Caught in Climate Change Feedback Loop
By Georgina Gustin

Blooms of harmful algae in the nation’s waters appear to be occurring much more frequently than in the past, increasing suspicions that the warming climate may be exacerbating the problem.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published newly collected data on Tuesday reporting nearly 300 large blooms since 2010. Last year alone, 169 were reported. While NOAA issues forecasts for harmful algal blooms in certain areas, the advocacy group called its report the first attempt to track the blooms on a nationwide scale.

The study comes as scientists have predicted proliferation of these blooms as the climate changes, and amid increasing attention by the news media and local politicians to the worst cases.

Just as troubling, these blooms could not only worsen with climate change, but also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions.

EWG based its study on news reports and before-and-after satellite images that show the expansion of the blooms. Though the rapid increase in the annual numbers might reflect more thorough observations and reporting in recent years, Craig Cox, who focuses on agriculture for EWG, said the numbers may still be on the low side.

In 2014, the news was especially urgent in Toledo, where a toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie forced health officials to declare the water unsafe for drinking and bathing. Harmful algae blooms had been common in the western part of Lake Erie from the 1960s through the 1980s, but they had diminished with better pollution controls—until about a decade ago, according to NOAA.

Now the blooms—thick undulating mats of green—have become an annual occurrence there.

The root cause of the problem lies mainly in agricultural runoff that contains phosphorus, which encourages algal growth.

At a recent conference, the mayor of Toledo pointed the blame for the continuing problem squarely at the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, saying that lawmakers in the state were too intimidated by the group to support legislation to deal with the problem. “It’s probably the most powerful interest group in Ohio,” Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said in an interview.

Kapszukiewicz noted that the city spent billions of dollars upgrading its water treatment facility more than a decade ago and that there have been no sewage overflows into the lake since then, and yet the blooms are getting worse. “Toledoans are paying for a problem we didn’t create,” he said.

“Nutrient runoff” comes from sewage and other sources, but mostly from fertilizer and manure, which are especially high in phosphorus.

The agricultural industry in Ohio and elsewhere has long been aware of the problem. Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the bureau had been looking into it for years. But when it came to legislative and regulatory measures, Cornely said: “You’ve heard the old saying, ‘You can have it fast or right.’ We want it to be right.”

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Toledo Blade Editorial: A Crusade for Lake Erie


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.

Toledo Blade: Judge Slams EPA for Lake Erie Impairment Controversy

April 11, 2018
Judge Slams EPA Over Lake Erie Impairment Controversy
By Tom Henry

In a decision hailed by environmental advocates as a major victory for clean drinking water, Senior U.S. District Judge James G. Carr accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency of botching the Lake Erie impairment controversy and, at one point, went so far as to say the federal agency demonstrated a “whiff of bad faith.”

The judge’s 25-page order, filed in Toledo on Wednesday night, gives the U.S. EPA 30 days to reconsider its failure to challenge the Ohio EPA’s controversial Oct. 20, 2016, finding that the open water of western Lake Erie did not meet criteria the state agency believed was necessary under the Clean Water Act to be designated as impaired.

An algae bloom from Lake Erie appears in the boat basin at International Park in Toledo in 2017.

The U.S. EPA accepted the state’s finding last year, first without formally acting on it.

Then, two days after it was sued by the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center and Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie last May, the federal agency passed the report through its administrative process but said it was deferring to the state of Ohio’s judgment not to list the open water as impaired.

The two groups sued, claiming the U.S. EPA missed an important deadline and failed to make a final decision one way or the other. In his ruling, Judge Carr agreed that’s not good enough and remanded the case back to the federal agency.

Although the Kasich administration finally did an about-face after years of resistance on behalf of agriculture by declaring the western basin impaired on March 22, the lawsuit remains active because it is focused on the U.S. EPA’s actions as a regulator. Judge Carr said he will continue to “retain jurisdiction over this suit and all matters affecting it.”

Lake Erie’s western basin has been plagued by chronic bouts of algae toxic enough to make people sick or possibly even die since 1995. The impairment controversy has drawn a lot of attention, because the designation allows for unprecedented controls on sources of algae-forming pollution, which today is primarily agricultural runoff.

“Ohio’s persistent failures came to a head in 2016,” according to Judge Carr’s order, which said the state’s reluctance to declare western Lake Erie as impaired goes back to at least 2012. That’s two years before Toledo’s high-profile 2014 water crisis, when the city’s tap water was so fouled by an algal toxin that the metro area’s 500,000 residents were told by health officials to avoid it for almost three days.

The state agency could have made the declaration in biennial reports submitted in 2012, 2014, or 2016, but its “rebuke put the U.S. EPA in a difficult position,” the judge wrote.

While stating the federal agency “had, in effect, given Ohio a pass,” the judge also wrote that Ohio ignored its “opportunity and its duties” as a regulator. Judge Carr further stated that the U.S. EPA compounded Ohio’s inaction with more inaction by failing to act on the state’s 2016 report for nearly five months. The judge wrote that lack of oversight occurred despite Ohio’s “unmistakable failure to do what it promised the U.S. EPA it would do after 2014.”

He seemed particularly upset by the U.S. EPA waiting until a federal holiday — Jan. 15, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day and one day before his Jan. 16 deadline for motions — to tell the Ohio EPA in writing it was having second thoughts about the state’s refusal up to that point to declare western Lake Erie impaired.

Judge Carr said he was never notified — formally or informally — by the U.S. EPA, and heard about the new development in a roundabout way, from a clerk who passed down word from the ELPC.

“Defendants’ oversight amplifies the whiff of bad faith arising from the timing of its inexplicably delayed notice to plaintiffs’ counsel,” he wrote.

The judge also said he recognizes that farm runoff is much more complicated than sewage discharges and other point sources. In his decision, he noted that U.S. EPA counsel stated during oral arguments that meaningful reductions in farm runoff could take eight to 23 years.

Howard Learner, ELPC executive director, said he was impressed by the tone of Judge Carr’s remarks.

He said the judge called out both agencies for “bad faith and procedural maneuverings” and said the Ohio EPA “has dodged and weaved its statutory obligations over the years.”

“The judge, in effect, is saying ‘Quit playing games,’” Mr. Learner said. “This is a good day for the public and a good day for safe, clean drinking water.”

Mike Ferner, ACLE founder, said he hopes Judge Carr retains jurisdiction for a long time.

The U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA declined comment. Both agencies said they are still reviewing the order.

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Toledo Blade: What Will Lake Erie’s Impairment Mean for Northwest Ohio?

What Will Lake Erie’s Impairment Mean for Northwest Ohio?
By Tom Henry

Though hailed as a rare victory for environmentalists, the Kasich administration’s reversal on the western Lake Erie impairment issue is only a “key first step” in litigation that may keep the state of Ohio tied up in court for years over cleanup strategies, according to the Chicago-based legal advocacy group that forced the administration’s hand on the issue.

Howard Learner, Environmental Law & Policy Center executive director, told The Blade less than five hours after the governor’s dramatic change of-heart was made public Thursday that his group’s U.S. District Court lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is anything but over. The ELPC brought the case on behalf of Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, which was founded in response to the city’s 2014 water crisis by activist and former city councilman Mike Ferner.

Mr. Learner said he wants the court to retain jurisdiction over the case, and that his group will seek remedies and enforceable timelines for western Lake Erie from Judge James Carr, who is hearing arguments.

Judge Carr, he said, is still expected to issue a ruling over the U.S. EPA’s role in the impairment controversy this April or May. He said the judge will be asked to address the ELPC’s claim that the federal EPA’s original actions as a regulator were “arbitrary and capricious” when it allowed Ohio to go without an impairment designation while, at the same time, approving Michigan’s plan. Unlike Ohio’s, Michigan’s plan had an impairment designation for the same body of water.

“This [impairment designation by the state of Ohio] is a key first step by the Ohio EPA in recognizing the reality that western Lake Erie is impaired by pollution. Next, clear steps must be taken by the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to address it,” Mr. Learner said.

Western Lake Erie — the warmest, shallowest, and most biologically diverse and dynamic part of the Great Lakes region — has been plagued by various species of algae for decades. Blade archives show some forms of it existed at least as far back as the 1930s.

Much of the problem before the federal Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 came from point sources, especially sewage treatment plants. That problem has largely been addressed by the modern era of sewage treatment, which came after the CWA took effect.

In recent years, the main culprit has been nonpoint sources, mostly agricultural runoff that is much more diffuse and harder to track than what comes out of a sewage pipe.

Experts once thought the improvements made in the 1970s would keep algae suppressed for good. But since 1995, the lake’s open water has been chronically plagued by a type of algae known as microcystis, which — at 3.5 billion years old — is one of Earth’s oldest-living organisms but was often a runner-up to other types of algae until 23 years ago.

An impairment designation for a lake that has been plagued by algae outbreaks on and off throughout modern times may sound like over-the-top government minutia.

But it’s important in legal circles because it now means the full powers of the federal Clean Water Act must be used to restore western Lake Erie to health. That includes a requirement for Ohio and Michigan to set up what’s known as a “total maximum daily load,” or TMDL. In short, that will put a cap on how much fertilizer can enter the western basin’s rivers and streams, and will be used to better pinpoint sources of pollution on an individual basis.

The U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA have thus far engaged in a “shell game” by passing responsibility for the lake back and forth, Mr. Learner said.

“The state of Ohio needs to do a TMDL for the Maumee River basin area and enforce protection standards,” he said. “That’s the next critical step.”

Though the Ohio EPA is not the target of the ELPC’s lawsuit, it has felt heat from it because of how it works in tandem with the U.S. EPA, the prime defendant. Other defendants include U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and acting U.S. EPA Region 5 chief Robert Kaplan, who has since been replaced by Cathy Stepp, Region 5’s new administrator. In her role, Ms. Stepp manages the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes National Program. Region 5 oversees the Great Lakes states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as 35 federally recognized tribal governments.

A turning point in the case came in January, when the U.S. EPA reversed course and said it had erred by approving a list of impaired bodies of water the Ohio EPA submitted on Oct. 20, 2016, an exercise done once every two years. The federal EPA said that, upon further examination, Ohio’s list was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations in general.

The Kasich administration steadfastly held tight to its policy of favoring agricultural programs with voluntary incentives over stronger regulations. But several people interviewed said at that point it was clear Ohio wasn’t picking up on the federal government’s signals.

“Clearly, the ELPC lawsuit has spurred the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA has responded,” Mr. Learner said.

He said the ELPC wants the court to retain jurisdiction so that Ohio’s program for addressing western Lake Erie becomes more meaningful and enforceable.

“We are entitled to the certainty going forward. We don’t want to be in the middle of a procedural shell game,” Mr. Learner said. “We’re not dealing with a theoretical issue here. We’re dealing with a practical problem.”

He said his group will seek a court order that addresses phosphorus and nitrogen. Both are common fertilizers. But most of the programs to date — including the non-binding goal of a 40 percent nutrient reduction by 2025 embraced by Ohio, Michigan, and Ontario — were written for phosphorus.

Phosphorus is most closely linked to algae growth, but nitrogen is more closely linked to its toxicity. Nitrogen also is the driver behind the dominant species of algae in Lake Erie’s Sandusky Bay, planktothrix. Both it and microcystis produce the same toxin, microcystin.

“It’s not that pollution has to be reduced to zero,” Mr. Learner said. “The purpose is to reduce it to the point in which the water isn’t impaired.”

He said it’s “pretty clear the litigation forced the hand of the U.S. EPA and the Kasich administration.”

“Do I think they would have done what they’re doing without a lawsuit being filed?” Mr. Learner asked. “No.”

Lucas County Commission President Pete Gerken agreed.

“I think they were about to lose in federal court,” Mr. Gerken said. “They wanted to make the designation before they were told to do that.”

He and the other two county commissioners — Tina Skeldon Wozniak and Carol Contrada — were among the first government officials calling for an impairment designation.

Former Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson resisted until last September, about six weeks before the election last November in which she lost to Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz. She declined despite heckling and protesting by Mr. Ferner and his group members, including a high-profile incident outside One Government Center in which Mr. Ferner put algae-infested water and dead fish into the government building’s public fountain.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz supported an impairment designation throughout his campaign, and said the day before he announced his candidacy that he would consider joining the ELPC in its lawsuit if elected.

Ms. Hicks-Hudson said her change of heart came after seeing an unusual bloom in the Maumee River anchored off Promenade Park, just as a major regatta sponsored by ProMedica was about to begin. She said she was disheartened by the sight of the scum, especially in a part of downtown that is to symbolize the city’s rebirth.

For Ms. Skeldon Wozniak, the impairment designation will mean more accountability.

She said Ohio can take its lead from the Chesapeake Bay, the largest ecosystem operating under a TMDL program. It involves multiple states.

“This plan has accountability and teeth,” Ms. Skeldon Wozniak said.

Ms. Contrada, a lawyer, said the Clean Water Act “acts for the people,” and that the writing was on the wall for the Kasich administration once the U.S. EPA changed course in January.

“It gave a road map to the Ohio EPA to follow,” she said. “It really takes a multitude of voices to move a bureaucracy.”

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Associated Press: Algae Leads to ‘Impaired’ Designation for Western Lake Erie

Algae Leads to ‘Impaired’ Designation for Western Lake Erie

By John Seewer

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio, for the first time, is designating the entire western end of Lake Erie as an impaired waterway because of the toxic algae that has fouled drinking water and closed beaches in recent years, officials said Thursday.

The shallowest of the Great Lakes has seen its largest algae blooms on record over the past decade, fueled mainly by farm fertilizers washing into the lake.

Until now, Ohio has resisted calls by environmental groups and some political leaders to issue an impairment declaration, saying federal regulators didn’t have standards to trigger such a decision for the lake’s open waters.

Officials within Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration also have been worried that calling the lake impaired would wrongly give the impression that it’s no longer safe as a drinking water source or for boaters and swimmers.

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency worked with university researchers to come up with a measurement standard and determined that water samples show the western part of Lake Erie aren’t meeting water quality standards, state EPA Director Craig Butler said.

The move comes as a federal judge is considering a lawsuit filed by environmental groups who want the lake classified impaired, hoping it would pave the way for increased pollution regulations.

Whether stiffer rules will be mandated isn’t clear.

Butler said he doesn’t expect the EPA to order any new regulations because Ohio already has a federally approved plan in place to combat the algae that now turns the lake’s blue waters into unsightly shades of green most summers.

An algae bloom in 2014 left more than 400,000 people around Toledo unable to drink their tap water for two days. The following year’s outbreak was the largest yet.

Blooms also have been blamed for fish kills and can sicken swimmers.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. EPA called for increased efforts to reduce the phosphorus that feeds the algae but didn’t recommend any new regulations.

Instead, the federal strategy relies on existing state and local programs and voluntary actions by farmers to prevent fertilizers, manure and sewage from flowing into waterways. It said some tougher rules might be needed but leaves those decisions to the states.

Environmental groups that have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts applauded Ohio’s move, but they said tougher and enforceable regulations throughout the western Lake Erie region are still needed.

“Voluntary efforts haven’t been enough,” said Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which brought the lawsuit seeking the impairment designation. “To be clear, this is a first step and not the ending.”

Peter Bucher of the Ohio Environmental Council said that without a plan reducing the pollutants, Lake Erie will be “inundated by yearly large-scale algal blooms for the foreseeable future.”

Ohio officials say the impairment designation doesn’t mean that the western end of the lake isn’t safe or that it should be avoided when there are no algae blooms in the water.

The worry, though, is that it will cause people to think twice about visiting the lake, Butler said.

“I’m very concerned about the negative consequences this could bring for our tourism and fishing industries for very little environmental gain,” he said.

Ohio’s impairment designation covers an area of the lake that stretches roughly 60 miles — from Toledo to Marblehead — and is popular with boaters and anglers.

Until now, the state had designated only shoreline waters and a small area near Toledo’s water intake pipe as impaired.

The impairment designation is part of a two-year evaluation of all state waterways that’s mandated by the Clean Water Act.

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Toledo Blade: ELPC Continues Push for EPA to Declare Lake Erie Open Waters Impaired

Environmentalists Make Renewed Push for U.S. EPA to Declare Western Lake Erie Impaired
By Tom Henry |

Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, environmentalists are pressing for a court ruling that would commit state and federal officials to impose tough new rules on farms and other sources of algae-growing runoff that flows into area waterways.

In a 25-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo this week, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is imploring Senior Judge James G. Carr for a ruling that would force the U.S. EPA to declare the Ohio portion of western Lake Erie impaired within 30 days — thereby making it consistent with action taken by Michigan in 2016.

Then, according to the ELPC and its client, Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the agencies should be compelled to do an extensive, fingerprint-like analysis to discover exactly where the basin’s phosphorus and nitrogen is coming from on a site-by-site basis.
It would be unlike any ever done before, and would be followed up with a major crackdown on the pollution to get to the root of the problem once and for all, the groups argue.

Their request is a supplement to a 188-page motion the two groups filed immediately after the U.S. EPA reversed itself on Jan. 12, when the federal agency conceded in a letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler that it erred in going along with his agency’s plan to keep Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie off its 2016 biennial list of impaired water bodies.

The U.S. EPA said in that letter it revisited the issue and — 14 months later — determined Ohio’s 2016 biennial report was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations.

In their latest filing, ELPC attorney Madeline Fleisher told Judge Carr she remains concerned the U.S. EPA is playing a shell game and trying to stall until the next biennial reporting period this fall. The judge has previously stated he would like to rule on this case this spring, before the 2018 algae season begins.

“The remedy for an admittedly illegal delay is not more delay,” Ms. Fleisher wrote for the opening sentence of her memorandum.

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U.S. News & World Report/AP: US Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

 

U.S. Agency Reverses Course on Lake Erie Toxic Algae Decision

By JOHN SEEWER, Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants Ohio to do another review of Lake Erie to determine whether it should be declared impaired by toxic algae blooms that have become a recurring threat in recent summers.

The agency in a letter to Ohio’s environmental director said it was reversing an earlier decision that had agreed with the state’s assessment that the western end of Lake Erie should not be listed as impaired.

The EPA’s reversal issued last week didn’t go as far as ordering the lake to be designated as an impaired watershed. Instead, it said the state’s list of impaired waters was incomplete and didn’t properly evaluate the lake’s waters.

Several environmental groups have sued the EPA saying the lake should be classified impaired because algae blooms are preventing the waters from meeting basic quality standards. The designation could pave the way for increased pollution regulations in the shallowest of the Great Lakes.
Michigan proposed in 2016 designating its portion of Lake Erie as impaired, but Ohio resisted doing the same for its entire section.

Craig Butler, director of Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency, said the state will do the review but needs more details from the federal agency. It remains unclear, he said, is what the standards are that should trigger an impaired designation for the lake’s open waters.

Butler said the U.S. EPA earlier told the state that it doesn’t have a way to gauge the algae’s impact. He said the state is working with university researchers to come up with such a measurement standard.

“We have never said that Lake Erie doesn’t have problems,” Butler said.

Algae outbreaks have fouled drinking water twice since 2013 and are a threat to fish and wildlife. Last year’s bloom stretched along the shores of Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, Canada, and was among the largest in recent years.

Scientists largely blame phosphorus-rich fertilizer runoff from farms and municipal sewage overflows for feeding the algae growth.

Backers of listing the lake as impaired hope it will bring increased regulations on how farmers fertilize their fields and dispose of livestock manure.

The U.S. EPA’s change of course is welcome but doesn’t ensure adequate protection for the lake, said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which sued over Ohio’s refusal to designate its western section as impaired.

The federal agency should order Ohio to immediately develop plans known as “total maximum daily loads,” which would impose specific limits on phosphorus flows into the lake, Learner said. Instead, the U.S. EPA appears willing to wait for a new state evaluation due in April.

“They seem to be kicking the can down the road,” Learner said.

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