Gardner introduces new algal bloom bill

State Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, unveiled a new bill Monday to protect Lake Erie from harmful algal blooms, adding several new proposals to a measure last year that passed the House but didn’t make it through the Senate.

The new bill is designated as “Senate Bill 1,” a numbering that apparently reflects the Ohio Senate leadership’s determination to make the bill a priority. The Senate’s Agriculture Committee begins hearings on the bill on Tuesday.

Gardner said the bill represents the strongest effort yet by Ohio state lawmakers to curtail harmful algal blooms that threaten municipal water supplies drawn from Lake Erie.

“This legislation builds on the good work in the House of Representatives last November, but makes our commitment to cleaning up Lake Erie even stronger,” Gardner said. “There should be no question that Lake Erie is a major priority.”

Gardner’s bill includes the following provisions, all similar to ones in the House measure, House Bill 490, that didn’t make it all the way through in 2014:

Placing fertilizer or manure on frozen or rain-saturated ground would be banned.
Open lake dumping of dredged materials would end in five years.
Phosphorus levels would be monitored in wastewater treatment plants.

The Agriculture Pollution Abatement Program, designed to encourage farmers to use techniques that reduce the runoff of nutrients that feed harmful algal blooms, would be transferred from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.

But Gardner said his new bill builds upon last year’s House bill by adding several new provisions.

The measure creates a new Office of Harmful Algae Management and Response in the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The office would work with local governments and other state agencies to battle harmful algal blooms.

It also continues the Healthy Lake Erie Fund, a state fund that Gardner helped create in previous sessions to fund initiatives to fight harmful algal blooms. And the new bill has an emergency provision that means the measure will become law immediately after Gov. John Kasich signs it.

Referring to the additional provisions, Gardner said, “I think those only make the bill better and stronger, but not controversial.”

He said he hopes the Senate measure will enjoy good support in the Ohio House.

“We have nearly 60 members of the House who are still in the House of Representatives today, who already voted ‘Yes’ on most of these provisions in November,” Gardner said.

He said he doesn’t know yet who in the House will be in charge of advancing the bill there if it passes the Senate.

“My understanding is the House is working on their own version of the Clean Lake Erie bill,” Gardner said.

Senate leaders have said they want a vote on Senate Bill 1 this month on the Senate floor.

Gardner said that while the Senate wants to act quickly, he also favors prudence.

“We’ll listen to the public in our committee meetings,” Gardner said. If the bill needs to be slowed down to fix something, “that decision can be made at that time,” Gardner said.


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