Consent decree won’t help Lake Erie, Ferner says

Larry Limpf

News Editor

A consent decree requiring the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to establish a plan to address toxic algal blooms that plague Lake Erie falls short of what is needed to effectively stem the problem, a member of an environmental organization says.
U.S. District Judge James Carr approved the decree earlier this month. It requires the Ohio EPA to submit a Total Maximum Daily Load plan for the lake to the U.S. EPA by June 30. A TMDL sets the limits for pollutants the lake can tolerate and still meet regulations set in the Clean Water Act.
When the judge signed off on the decree it was praised by the Lucas County commissioners and members of the Environmental Law & Policy Center who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. EPA.
But Mike Ferner, a member of Lake Erie Advocates, said the judge’s order simply means the Ohio EPA will continue to endorse what he called the “failed” programs of H2Ohio – a state initiative that was launched in 2019.
“It can’t come close to the pollution reductions needed because it allows ever more factory ‘farms’ to produce millions more gallons of waste and apply it untreated on fields draining into Lake Erie,” Ferner said. “Judge Carr, the county commissioners, and the Environmental Law & Policy Center, are captive to a legal system that wants the public to believe Lake Erie can be cleaned up without telling the factory farm industry it has to stop building more facilities and phase out the ones it has.”
The consent decree requires the U.S. EPA to approve or reject the Ohio EPA TMDL within 90 days. If it rejects the Ohio EPA plan, it must prepare its own TMDL within five months. Under the decree, the county and ELPC retain the right to challenge the EPA’s approval or subsequent proposed plan.
Howard Learner, executive director of the ELPC, described the consent decree as a “key next step to cleaning up Lake Erie.”
“For too long, the Ohio EPA has resisted calls by local governments, environmental groups and scientists to prepare a mandatory action plan to reduce the agricultural runoff pollution of manure and fertilizers which cause the recurring Lake Erie toxic algal blooms. The U.S. EPA also had failed to force Ohio to prepare the TMDL to reduce agricultural runoff pollution sufficient to clean up Lake Erie,” he said.
After studying draft TMDLs of the Ohio EPA, Ferner and the LEA have concluded the agency hasn’t accepted the role of dissolved reactive phosphorus in the formation of the toxic blooms. What’s more, the drafts rely too much on practices such as cover crops, buffer strips, and grassed waterways that haven’t been effective in stopping run-off, according to the LEA.
“The OEPA has said in public filings that they intend to use only reductions in Total Phosphorus, not Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus to determine progress in reducing the flood of excess nutrients going into Western Lake Erie. That decision is as unacceptable as it is scientifically outdated and by itself is sufficient to question the validity of the TMDL process,” the LEA said in a prepared statement.
LEA joined the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit in 2019 but withdrew from it in December 2021, saying “we have zero confidence that justice for Lake Erie and protecting her rights as a living entity can be won in the courts.”


The Press

The Press
1550 Woodville Road
Millbury, OH 43447

(419) 836-2221

Email Us

Facebook Twitter

Ohio News Media Association