Now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reversed itself on the western Lake Erie impairment issue, environmentalists are pressing for a court ruling that would commit state and federal officials to impose tough new rules on farms and other sources of algae-growing runoff that flows into area waterways.
In a 25-page memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in Toledo this week, the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center is imploring Senior Judge James G. Carr for a ruling that would force the U.S. EPA to declare the Ohio portion of western Lake Erie impaired within 30 days — thereby making it consistent with action taken by Michigan in 2016.
Then, according to the ELPC and its client, Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie, the agencies should be compelled to do an extensive, fingerprint-like analysis to discover exactly where the basin’s phosphorus and nitrogen is coming from on a site-by-site basis.
It would be unlike any ever done before, and it would be followed up with a major crackdown on the pollution to get to the root of the problem once and for all, the groups argue.
Their request is a supplement to a 188-page motion the two groups filed immediately after the U.S. EPA reversed itself on Jan. 12, when the federal agency conceded in a letter to Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler that it erred in going along with his agency’s plan to keep Ohio’s portion of western Lake Erie off its 2016 biennial list of impaired water bodies.
The U.S. EPA said in that letter it revisited the issue and — 14 months later — determined Ohio’s 2016 biennial report was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements” of the federal Clean Water Act and U.S. EPA regulations.
In their latest filing, ELPC attorney Madeline Fleisher told Judge Carr she remains concerned the U.S. EPA is playing a shell game and trying to stall until the next biennial reporting period this fall. The judge has previously stated he would like to rule on this case this spring, before the 2018 algae season begins.
“The remedy for an admittedly illegal delay is not more delay,” Ms. Fleisher wrote for the opening sentence of her memorandum.
She went on to argue that Congress has an “unambiguous and mandatory procedure” in place for U.S. EPA regional offices to accept or reject state-generated impairment reports within 30 days.
“The Court should order U.S. EPA to follow the required procedure by making an impairment determination for the open waters of western Lake Erie within 30 days, thereby setting Lake Erie on the path toward healthy water as quickly as possible,” she wrote.
The U.S. EPA, citing standard operating procedure, has said it will not comment on pending litigation.
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