State legislation introduced Wednesday would increase the amount of unregulated water that companies can take from Lake Erie and its tributaries, but not nearly as much as a controversial bill last year that was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich.
Power plants, steel mills, large manufacturers, farmers, and other water users would be allowed to use up to 2.5 million gallons a day from Lake Erie, 1 million gallons from major tributaries, and 100,000 gallons from "high-quality streams" without needing to obtain a permit. Those amounts would be averaged over a 90-day period.
Those thresholds are higher than the current 2 million gallons-a-day limit, but are half the size of limits proposed last year in a Republican-backed bill.
Mr. Kasich vetoed that bill to concerns that it didn't go far enough to regulate water usage in the Lake Erie basin.
Ohio must pass new regulations as part of the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement signed by several states and Canadian provinces intended to protect the region's water resources.
If it doesn't, dramatically lower thresholds automatically go into effect in 2013.
Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), who introduced last year's bill and the new legislation, House Bill 47, said both bills offer good stewardship of the environment while creating a business-friendly climate that would help promote job growth in Ohio.
"Certainly there are some fringe groups that don't have an understanding that you can have pro-economic, pro-jobs legislation and protect natural resources at the same time," he said.
Still, the new legislation received a cool reception from the Kasich administration, despite its lower thresholds.
"We've been working well with business, legislative, and environmental stakeholders to strengthen protections for Lake Erie, but haven't yet reached a final agreement," Kasich spokesman Scott Milburn said in a statement. "Those issues remain unresolved in the bill that was introduced this morning -- unexpectedly introduced, I should add.
"Hopefully we can still resolve these issues and put in place the strong water-quality protections that the Great Lakes deserve."
Mr. Wachtmann said discussions with the governor's office were going well until about eight weeks ago, when the administration wanted additional changes.
Few of those involved in the process of crafting the new legislation seem happy with it.
"While we don't like it as well as the bill that was vetoed, we think it's a bill the business community can live with," said Linda Woggon, executive vice president of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. "For the business community, what you want in a regulatory program is predictability. This bill does not have that kind of predictability."
Environmental groups are also disappointed.
Kristy Meyer, agriculture and clean water program director for the Ohio Environmental Council, said that while there are some big improvements in the new legislation, a number of concerns remain.
One of those is the use of 90-day averages in calculating a business' water withdrawal.
"A facility could withdraw six million gallons of water at one time and not be required to obtain a permit," she said. "Wildlife doesn't live in averages."
Mr. Wachtmann, who owns a water bottling company that takes water out of the watershed, said the bill could get a committee hearing next week.
He said that if the governor's office is unhappy with the bill, there will be ample opportunity to suggest changes as part of the committee process.
"My door has always been open," he said.
Contact Tony Cook at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6065.
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