Statehouse action on algal bloom solutions could take time, Ohio lawmaker says

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the Ohio Senate plans to move quickly on legislation to combat toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie, a key House member is in no rush to act on the issue.

“I don’t know if I want to say I’m going to fast-track it,” said Rep. Brian Hill, a Zanesville Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. “We’re going to have proper hearings.”

House and Senate leaders have each pledged to take action after the toxic blooms led Toledo to ban drinking water for three days last summer, the season when the blooms are most prolific.

Lawmakers said the new bills will include proposed rules designed to reduce the phosphorus runoff that promotes the toxic blooms, including restrictions on when Northwest Ohio farmers could use fertilizer and manure. Similar legislation was defeated last month after lawmakers loaded it with amendments on unrelated issues.

Hill said he intends to push through an algal bloom bill “fairly quickly,” but only after taking the time to make sure the legislation’s done right.

“I don’t want to rush something and then find out we missed something we should have considered,” he said.

The chairman also said he’s concerned about dropping new rules on farmers just before or during the spring planting season. And in the long run, he said, taking some extra time to craft a bill won’t make much of a difference.

“At the end of the day, whatever we pass, there are still going to be algal blooms this summer and probably for the next several summers,” he said.

Adam Rissien, director of agricultural and water policy for the Ohio Environmental Council, disagreed. He said it’s important to set fertilizer and manure restrictions in place by the time heavy spring rains arrive.

“This bill will have great effect if it’s passed in a timely manner,” he said.

Rissien said he expects lawmakers will move quickly to pass an anti-algal bloom bill. Legislation normally doesn’t become law until three months after the governor signs it into law, but Rissien predicted legislators will add an emergency clause allowing the measures to immediately take effect.

“I would actually expect something done before the springtime or even the end of winter,” he said. “We certainly applaud their sense of urgency to get something passed quickly.”

 

Photo: Ohio Senate leaders have said they intend to pass legislation to curb toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie and other bodies of water as soon as next month. But House Agriculture and Rural Development Chairman Brian Hill said House members might need more time than that to consider the legislation. (D’Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer)

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