Shared from the 2/2/2018 Sandusky Register eEdition

U.S. DISTRICT COURT

Judge to decide if Lake Erie impaired

SANDUSKY

A ruling by a federal judge in Toledo may speed the pace of cleaning up Lake Erie and turning back the threat of harmful algal blooms.

A lawsuit brought by Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, a Toledo group, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago asked U.S. District Judge James Carr to order the U.S. EPA to rule western Lake Erie is impaired. That would trigger a series of mandatory steps to deal with the lake’s problems, the two groups said.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the Lake Erie shore is “impaired” but not the open waters of Lake Erie. The U.S EPA initially accepted this answer but reversed under pressure from the lawsuit.

In a letter to the Ohio EPA sent out Jan. 12, the federal agency said it doesn’t accept the state’s report and asked the Ohio EPA to review whether Lake Erie’s open waters are impaired.

Citing the U.S. EPA letter, the two groups filed a motion for a summary judgment by Carr. Attorneys will submit briefs to argue the motion, which will be followed by oral arguments before Catt March 6.

Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, and other environmental groups in Ohio, argued declaring Lake Erie as impaired would help efforts to fight harmful algal blooms, which has relied on voluntary actions by Ohio farmers.

A spokeswoman for Ohio EPA director Craig Butler played down the importance of the impaired waters designation when the Register asked for comment.

Spokeswoman Heidi Griesmer wrote in an email designating Lake Erie as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act “is a very narrow technical issue.”

“It’s important to understand that Ohio isn’t necessarily opposed to an impairment designation for the open waters of Lake Erie if that designation has a scientifically based, agreed upon standard. Although multiple times Ohio EPA has asked U.S. EPA for a standard by which to base an impairment status, the federal agency has not been able to provide that standard for the state,” she said, adding Ohio EPA will join discussions with federal officials about what further information the U.S. EPA wants.

“It’s significant that Ohio’s Domestic Action Plan is advancing efforts toward the 40 percent nutrient reduction target put forth in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 2012. Since 2011, the state of Ohio has invested $2.5 billion in Ohio’s portion of the Lake Erie Basin for both point source and nonpoint source (farm runoff) nutrient reduction and drinking water treatment,” she said.

Mike Ferner, founder of Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, said the impairment designation is important because it moves remedies and actions from voluntary to mandatory.

“That’s exactly what the Ohio EPA and the Farm Bureau don’t want,” he said.

An impairment designation would force Ohio to come up with a proposed solution that includes a timeline, deadlines and reporting requirements, Ferner said.

“The whole regimen is mandatory and it’s legally enforceable,” he said.

Michigan ruled Lake Erie’s open waters are impaired, and the U.S EPA accepted that, even while agreeing with Ohio the lake isn’t impaired.

That drew criticism from U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who said it makes no sense for the federal agency to approve two different opinions about the same lake.

Kaptur said she is pleased the U.S. EPA is reconsidering its earlier decision.

“There is no magic line between the impaired Lake Erie waters of Michigan and Ohio,” said Kaptur, co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force.

“This is simple, Lake Erie should be designated as impaired because it is. This past summer 1,000 square miles of the lake were covered in green slime — even a child can see the lake is impaired.”

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