Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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EDITORIAL

Welcome to algae fight, feds

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has noticed that Ohio’s environmental authorities seemed to overlook some key pieces of evidence when they decided Lake Erie is not impaired by pollution.

That’s something people in northwest Ohio — where the water is sometimes too toxic to drink and the lake is covered in a green algae goo every summer — have known for years.

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The federal agency sent Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler a letter this week saying it is reevaluating where it stands on Ohio’s decision in 2016 to stick to a strategy of voluntary measures to reduce the pollution that is feeding toxic algae blooms on the lake.

The U.S. EPA has decided the data submitted by state authorities to substantiate this decision was “incomplete and thus not fully consistent with the requirements of Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulations.”

The state did not meet its obligation to gather ALL the relevant data and evaluate that information correctly, federal authorities said.

The state certainly missed the mark when it looked out at the pea green coat of algae on the lake yet somehow did not see the threat it poses.

Environmental groups, local officials, businesses that rely on the lake, and others have been clamoring for years for the state EPA to do its part in designating Lake Erie impaired under the terms of the Clean Water Act. Such a designation would trigger federal intervention necessary to finally clean up the pollution causing annual algae blooms.

The letter from the federal environmental authorities came in relation to a lawsuit from environmental groups seeking to force an impairment designation. The U.S. EPA’s surprising letter to Ohio authorities, which sets an April deadline for them to submit new, complete data, could signal that the environmental interests will prevail.

The Kasich administration has stubbornly refused to see the lake for what it is — polluted to the point of impairment.

Mr. Kasich, Mr. Butler, and others have made the ridiculous argument that an impairment designation is not necessary because Ohio’s voluntary measures for reducing the algae-feeding pollution will work. Meanwhile, the state is nowhere near on track to meet the pollution-reduction goals it has agreed to.

Federal intervention would bring real science and real standards to the fight. It would prompt a study to find the sources of pollution flowing to Lake Erie and set limits — real limits backed by the power of law — on that pollution.

Anyone standing on the shores of western Lake Erie has seen it. Now the feds can see it too. It is time for Ohio to see Lake Erie for what it is — green and impaired and in need of federal help.

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