Changes afoot with algae legislation

Toledo, Ohio — Some state lawmakers and those within Gov. John Kasich’s administration no longer appear on the same page when it comes to fighting the spread of algae in Lake Erie since a toxin contaminated drinking water for 400,000 people in Ohio and Michigan last August.

The Ohio House is poised to vote on legislation that strays from what Kasich has proposed and isn’t as tough as a measure that already has cleared the state Senate.

It now looks like legislative leaders and the governor’s office may need more time to hash out a plan, even though they’ve been saying that one of their top priorities this year is tackling the algae that has been fouling Lake Erie in recent summers.

The first step is a proposal banning the spread of manure on frozen fields or when heavy rain is in the immediate forecast, along with setting new rules on dumping dredged sediment in Lake Erie. Both are thought to contribute to the algae blooms that produce dangerous toxins.

The Ohio Senate adopted those recommendations last month, but lawmakers in the Ohio House added changes to its own bill that would essentially allow farmers to avoid penalties for applying manure on frozen fields if they ask soil or officials water for help with developing a solution for getting rid of the manure.

Farmers could avoid penalties even if they ask for help before committing a violation.

“It sends a clear message that we’re not going to penalize you if you’re going to break the rules,” said Adam Rissien, the Ohio Environmental Council’s director of agricultural and water policy.

Other changes in the House version include:

• Allowing farmers to apply chemical fertilizers as long as the forecast does not call for onr inch of rain over 12 hours. The Senate version prohibits farmers from using fertilizer if half an inch of rain is expected over 24 hours.
• Prohibiting the dumping of dredged sediment only in the Maumee River basin near Toledo instead of all of Lake Erie.

Sen. Randy Gardner, who brought forward the legislation in the Senate, said he remains hopeful both sides can work out the differences and have a bill ready for Kasich by the end of this month.

“This is too important not to finish our work,” said Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, which had been against banning farmers from putting manure on frozen fields but now says it’s okay with the idea, issued a statement saying it supports the House legislation because it allows time to come into compliance.

The farm industry’s powerful lobbying group has said an outright ban on spreading manure during the winter would be costly for farmers who lacked storage to dispose of it.

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