Republicans in the General Assembly are intent on tapping Ohio’s natural resources to raise revenue and, they claim, create jobs. Because GOP lawmakers control both the state House and Senate, they can pretty much have their way, even when it’s misguided.
But increased exploitation brings with it reciprocal obligations: not to be profligate in the use of non-renewable resources, and to ensure that the state’s renewable resources will be available to future generations.
A House bill that would allow drilling for oil and natural gas on state-owned lands, including state parks and forests, passed the Senate last week on a near party-line vote and went back to the House for approval of changes made by the upper chamber. Incredibly, Republican senators voted against protecting Lake Erie from the effects of the bill.
Lawmakers also are considering two GOP bills that would weaken protection of Lake Erie and the surface and ground water on which it depends. The business-friendly bills would allow industries to remove millions more gallons of water from Lake Erie and its watershed every day, without state oversight.
An oil spill in Lake Erie of the size of last year’s spill in the Gulf of Mexico would have disastrous consequences. Yet Republicans in Columbus felt no need to prohibit drilling under the lake, preferring to depend on federal safeguards over which they have no control.
GOP lawmakers also dismiss concerns that opening the taps wider on Lake Erie could have a negative effect on the shallowest of the Great Lakes. But in 1999, FirstEnergy’s Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants, which depend on Lake Erie water to cool their reactors, nearly had to shut down when a warm summer and low water levels raised the lake’s temperature to almost 85 degrees.
Warmer water temperatures also could increase toxic algae blooms and harm fish populations in Ohio waterways. Such outcomes would affect beach-goers, boaters, and anglers.
Lake Erie is threatened by a steady rise over the past 16 years of phosphorus levels in Ohio waterways. More phosphorus means toxic algae blooms that arrive earlier in the year and hang around later in the fall. The problem could get worse.
According to Ohio State University researchers, nearly a third of Ohio’s farmland has too much phosphorus. Eventually, it will be washed into rivers and streams, and end up in Lake Erie. Rainy springs such as those our area experienced this year accelerate the process.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of Lake Erie to Ohio. The lake adds $10 billion annually to Ohio’s economy. Some 250,000 tourism jobs depend on it. Millions of people look to the lake and its watershed for drinking water.
Ohioans do not want to return to the bad old days when unchecked pollution caused the Cuyahoga River periodically to catch on fire, and when Time magazine described Lake Erie as a “cesspool.”
Lawmakers should strengthen protections of Lake Erie to benefit current and future Ohioans, not weaken them to cater to business interests that are eager to exploit an increasingly valuable — and vulnerable — resource.