COLUMBUS — Toledo-based Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie this morning asserted the Ohio Department of Agriculture has lacked legal authority to issue or enforce permits for more than 200 of the state’s livestock facilities large enough to be classified as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.
The group — after consulting with area residents who for years have have been compiling publicly accessible online records and obtaining others through the Freedom of Information Act — maintains the state has lacked such authority since 2002, when that authority was supposed to have been transferred from the Ohio EPA to the Ohio Department of Agriculture through legislation known as Ohio Senate Bill 141.
The legislation was passed and signed into law by then-Gov. Bob Taft, but Lake Erie advocacy group members maintain final approval was never obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Recommended actions called for during a news conference in Columbus include investigations by the Ohio Inspector General and legislative hearings for what advocates described as “an ongoing scandal hidden in plain sight.”
“We are here today to explain how authority to regulate CAFOs was illegitimately transferred from the Ohio EPA to the ODA, but this is not the fundamental reason Lake Erie and our health are both under siege from factory farms. The fundamental reason is that an undemocratic process, built on political corruption, has created an agricultural model that places profit over health and sustainability at every turn,” said Mike Ferner, coordinator for Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie.
The group has been campaigning for stronger regulations on the feeding operations and the agricultural industry in general since it was formed in response to the 2014 Toledo water crisis that fouled the metro region’s tap water for three days.
“The enormity of this problem almost defies belief,” Mr. Ferner said, claiming the situation has allowed the state agriculture department to operate as a “rogue agency.”
The assertions are a follow-up to a 200-page petition filed in 2011 with the U.S. EPA by Wood County residents Larry and Vickie Askins and Jack Firsden. It was never acted upon.
State agriculture department officials, including Kevin Elder, have long defended their agency’s permitting and enforcement program, as has Karl Gephardt, an Ohio EPA official who also heads the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. Mr. Ferner has long noted Mr. Gephardt’s former role as an agriculture industry lobbyist, something that Mr. Gephardt doesn’t deny but asserts it does not affect his efforts or those of other state officials to protect Lake Erie.