COLUMBUS -- A business-backed bill to increase the amount of water that power plants, factories, and other businesses may draw from Lake Erie and its tributaries is headed for a vote in the Ohio House Wednesday.
Even before the vote takes place, a Senate committee has scheduled the bill for a hearing and vote Thursday.
"This is a freight train on greased skids," Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) said.
In other action, the House voted 57-38 Tuesday to send Gov. John Kasich a bill that would open state parks, forests, and other state-controlled lands to potential drilling for oil and natural gas. Language that would have specifically exempted Lake Erie was removed.
The water-withdrawal measure, House Bill 231, cleared the Republican-controlled House Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee Tuesday on a strict party-line vote. It would allow businesses to pull up to 5 million gallons of water a day directly from Lake Erie before facing restrictions.
The threshold drops to 2 million when taken from ground or other inland sources within the watershed and to 300,000 when taken from high-quality streams. Under current law, up to 2 million gallons a day may be taken from the watershed.
The bill is designed to write between the lines of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which was ratified by Ohio and seven other states, two Canadian provinces, and Congress.
The compact gives the states flexibility, but the thresholds set under the bill are higher than those adopted or under consideration in any other Great Lakes state. Only Indiana has adopted a threshold for Lake Michigan that rivals Ohio's proposed 5 million gallons for Lake Erie. The Hoosier State's thresholds for elsewhere in the watershed, however, are lower than Ohio's.
Brian Barger, spokesman for the business-backed Coalition for Sustainable Water Management, said no business has ever faced regulation in Ohio for consuming more than 2 million gallons a day.
"There's never been a problem and (the Department of Natural Resources) doesn't foresee a problem concerning withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed," he said. His coalition includes the Ohio, Toledo, and Cleveland chambers of commerce; Ohio Farm Bureau, manufacturers; and the chemical, petroleum, mining, and soft drink industries.
The House bill is sponsored by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), owner of a bottled-water company.
Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont) joined all of his fellow Republicans in support of the bill.
"It's about jobs and conservation," he said. "I think it strikes a good balance between the two, and if we find that it's not, we can always go back and revisit it."
"A lot of us in northwest Ohio consider this our backyard," said Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), a committee member. "We want to be sensitive to the long term of what we are now considering the blue economy."
The compact's goal was to help the Great Lakes states ward off efforts from drier portions of the United States and other countries to siphon off the region's valuable freshwater resources. Failure for the state to enact regulations by Dec. 8, 2013, would automatically lower Ohio's thresholds to the default 100,000 gallons a day in the compact.
A vote is expected to Wednesday in the full House, where the final vote on the drilling bill took place Tuesday. Attempts to include Lake Erie as one of the exceptions to drilling had failed, in part because of the existence of a federal ban.
This bill now goes to Mr. Kasich, who had included language authorizing drilling in the two-year state budget proposal being debated in the Senate.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com, or 614-221-0496.