Howard A. Learner

Personal View: A Cleaner Lake Erie is Good for Business

First appeared in Crain’s Cleveland Business

Summer is still here, it’s hot, and people are out on Lake Erie’s shores and in the water. Enjoying swimming, fishing, boating, and lounging on beaches with friends and families. Many more people would come and enjoy their water time more, however, if there weren’t recurring toxic algae outbreaks and green sludge on Lake Erie.

No one wants to paddle or have their kids swim in contaminated water. Who wants to sail a boat, take a boat tour or go walleye fishing in scummy water?

Less fun. Not healthy. Not good for business. And, not acceptable anymore.

Lake Erie pollution is reducing tourism revenues and hurting businesses that depend on the lake for their livelihood. Ohio’s Lake Erie region supports about 120,000 tourism-related jobs in the $13 billion to $15 billion tourism industry. Recent economic studies show that harmful algae blooms also harm the economy in both Northern Ohio and Canada. Cleaning up Lake Erie is good for Northern Ohio’s businesses.

Ohioans want a clean Lake Erie. It’s a top priority and can make a difference in how they spend their tourism dollars and how they vote in upcoming elections.

According to a new poll conducted by nationally recognized pollster Ann Selzer for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, the top issue for Northwest Ohio voters is safe water, and cleaning up Lake Erie. Here’s what the topline poll results show:

  • 93% of voters ranked access to safe clean water and cleaning up Lake Erie as their most important issue. That intense support is higher than for health care, jobs and wages, and COVID-19.
  • 81% favor enforceable regulations to reduce manure from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and commercial fertilizer runoff from crop fields. They recognize that voluntary measures aren’t working.
  • 78% of voters favor requiring permits for all CAFOs, and a majority support a moratorium on new CAFOs.
  • When asked to choose between a candidate prioritizing cleaning up Lake Erie even if it means more regulation and a candidate favoring allowing current practices and voluntary programs, the findings are 7-to-1 for the candidate who prioritizes cleaning up Lake Erie: 77% to 11%.
  • 54% of people say that cleaning up Lake Erie will be a major voting issue as they consider candidates to support, and more regulation of CAFOs is important.

Northwest Ohio voters recognize the problems and increasingly understand the necessary solutions for a healthy Lake Erie. These poll results are striking. People are fed up with recurring severe algae bloom outbreaks.

What should be done about the agricultural runoff phosphorus pollution — manure from CAFOs and commercial fertilizers from crop fields — that flows into western Lake Erie and causes severe recurring toxic algae outbreaks? Adopt enforceable regulations to reduce this pollution by enough to clean up Lake Erie, require permits for all CAFOs, not just some, and put a moratorium on new CAFOs.

Why are these regulations necessary? Because according to the Ohio EPA, 88% of the phosphorus pollution causing the toxic algae is due to manure and commercial fertilizers.

According to expert Ohio scientists, voluntary measures alone are not sufficient to reduce pollution enough to solve the Lake Erie toxic algae problems. Scientists have extensively studied the problem. A binational U.S./Canada science team concluded that the phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie must be reduced by at least 40% by 2025 to alleviate recurring toxic algae blooms.

The U.S. EPA, Climate Change Canada, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, New York and Pennsylvania signed Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in 2012, with each governmental entity committing to take actions sufficient to reduce phosphorus pollution by 40% by 2025. Ohio’s progress so far: almost none, despite millions of dollars for H2Ohio and other voluntary programs.

There are more CAFOs and more manure runoff pollution, and harmful algae outbreaks most summers. That impairs safe drinking water supply, damages fisheries, loses millions of dollars of tourism and recreation revenues for the Cleveland regional economy, and means less enjoyable outdoor activities for all.

Northwest Ohio voters get it. Enough is enough. They strongly support enforceable regulatory standards as necessary to reduce manure and commercial fertilizer runoff pollution in order to alleviate the recurring severe toxic algae outbreaks and clean up Lake Erie.

Gov. Mike DeWine should live up to his and Ohio’s commitment under Annex 4 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement by implementing enforceable regulatory standards now to reduce phosphorus pollution into western Lake Erie by 40% by 2025. The health of Lake Erie depends on it — and so does the regional economy.

Howard A. Learner,

Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director

Howard Learner is an experienced attorney serving as the President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. He is responsible for ELPC’s overall strategic leadership, policy direction, and financial platform.

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