Press Release

Lucas County Commissioners, City of Toledo, ELPC File Federal Lawsuit Against U.S. EPA to Curb Lake Erie Pollution

“EPA needs to do its job and regulate the factory farms we know are the root of the issue”


TOLEDO, Ohio – The Board of Lucas County Commissioners, City of Toledo, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center on Wednesday filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. EPA to compel the agency to comply with its obligations under the Clean Water Act and prevent harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie.

This is the latest step in the Commissioners’ long history of protecting the health of Lake Erie and pushing for solutions that prevent harmful algal blooms.

“We know it is industrial livestock facilities that are polluting our waterways, and these operations go largely unregulated. It is simply not possible to reverse the degradation of Lake Erie without addressing factory farms. This responsibility falls on the EPA, and we’re willing to take legal action to enforce that,” Commissioner Pete Gerken said. “The people who rely on Lake Erie for their drinking water and their livelihoods deserve better from the EPA.”

In 2019, the Commissioners and the Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to compel the U.S. EPA to fulfil its obligation under the Clean Water Act and implement a remedial plan to clean up Lake Erie.

Although the Ohio EPA declared Lake Erie to be impaired, it failed to take remedial action. After years of litigation, the Commissioners, the U.S. EPA, and the Ohio EPA agreed to a consent decree under which the Ohio EPA was obligated to prepare a remedial plan and to submit that plan to the U.S. EPA for review and, if appropriate, approval.

The Ohio EPA prepared a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – often referred to as a “pollution diet” – for western Lake Erie, which was then approved by the U.S. EPA last year, despite objections from the Commissioners and many environmental groups.

The Commissioners, the City of Toledo, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center all agree that the TMDL as it stands now will not remediate Lake Erie. It fails to limit pollution caused by dissolved reactive phosphorus and does not meaningfully address the concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that are responsible for polluting the watershed.

“Lake Erie is a vital resource that must be protected. Not only does it provide drinking water to half-a-million people, but it is vital to our region’s recreation, tourism, and economic development,” Commissioner Lisa A. Sobecki said. “For many in Lucas County, their ability to make a living depends on a healthy lake. We are not going to stop fighting until we see a meaningful TMDL.”

“August marks 10 years since a harmful algal bloom caused by agricultural runoff rendered our water undrinkable and sent our city into a panic. That should have been a wake-up call, yet year after year Lake Erie still turns green,” Commissioner Anita Lopez said. “We owe it to future generations to take action now to protect the health of our lake.”

Today’s joint lawsuit asks the court to set aside the U.S. EPA’s approval of Ohio’s TMDL and to order the U.S. EPA to prepare a new one that complies with the Clean Water Act and will actually clean up Lake Erie.

“The pollution in our watershed is a surprisingly easy problem to solve. The EPA simply needs to do its job and regulate the factory farms we know are the root of the issue,” Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said. “It’s a shame we need to take legal action to protect our natural resources, and, by extension, our residents, but I am proud to sign on to this lawsuit today.”

Environmental Law & Policy Center Senior Attorney Rob Michaels said:

“This is the fourth lawsuit the Environmental Law & Policy Center has had to file in federal court to compel U.S. EPA and the State of Ohio to take the necessary and legally required steps to clean up Lake Erie. Ohio’s Maumee River TMDL, or pollution diet, which U.S. EPA approved last fall, does not come close to complying with the Clean Water Act, and it will not remediate the harmful algal blooms that keep impairing Lake Erie year after year. So we are back in court – again – to hold U.S. EPA accountable for their legal obligations, to ensure that the TMDL does what it’s supposed to: clean up the Lake.”

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