Legislators study ways to make Lake Erie healthier

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

It’s been six weeks since Governor John Kasich signed an executive order designed to address how agricultural runoff is managed.

Some farmers were outraged, especially those that would fall under the mandate of the executive order.

Shortly afterward legislative leaders announced a joint committee would be formed to study the issues and challenges facing the long-term health of Lake Erie.

Members from both parties and both chambers make up the committee which is co-chaired by Sen. Bob Hackett and Rep. Brian Hill the chairmen of their respective Agriculture Committees.

Because the chairs of the ag committees would be chairing this working group Hackett made it clear they did not want people to get the wrong impression.

“We didn’t want it to be an agriculture committee because then it would have came back as all we’re there to defend agriculture on that, so we wanted a cross-section,” said Hackett. “We wanted people involved, you know, really as we say ‘on both sides’.”

Hackett and Hill got their wish; making up the committee are several members of the legislature with constituents in communities either on or near the lake, in both metropolitan and rural areas, and from both political parties.

The committee met for the first time this week and heard testimony for several hours.

Hackett says the group will meet at least one more time, but no date and time have been set as of yet.

He did confirm they are looking to hold the meeting in northwest Ohio, somewhere near Toledo so that farmers and people living near the lake will have a chance to testify.

Finally, Hackett could not say for sure if anything would come out of this working group; he says it’s too early to tell.

About a month ago, Governor Kasich was asked about the executive order.

“We’re not kicking this over to the legislature, they had their chance and they blinked like they have done on so many other issues including the gun laws,” said Kasich.

When asked if they felt Kasich was right, opinions among lawmakers varied along party lines.

Democrats Rep. Michael Sheehy and Sen. Michael Skindell agreed with the Governor while Hackett disagreed.

“You know the governor, he’s a good guy,” said Hackett. “[The] Governor’s gonna be leaving; he just wants his legacy that he really improved Lake Erie,” said Hackett.

Sheehy looks at what has been going on at the Statehouse differently.

“The legislature has had the opportunity over the last 5 years to do something substantial about this problem,” said Sheehy. He went on to lament that Kasich did not reach out across the aisle and attempt to work with him or to his knowledge any Democrats on this issue.

Meanwhile, Skindell points to what he calls loopholes in the last two pieces of legislation addressing run-off.

“[Democrats] tried to bring amendments to close those loopholes, those amendments were rejected,” said Skindell.

It is commonplace for Democrats to bring amendments to bills forward only to have them tabled immediately by the Republican majority in committee and on the chamber floors.

Setting aside the partisan divide over the issue of whether the legislature has done enough to address this issue, there appears to be optimism that something may come out of this working group even if nothing can be certain at the moment.

The reduction of phosphorus and nitrates getting into the lake are a goal the Democrats would like to see achieved and something that Hackett says he’s open to.

“That’s a similar and non-partisan goal. I mean, if you look at the farmers; the farmers want to keep the nutrients in their farms on their land, so there is something we both agree on,” said Hackett.

According to Hackett finding the right balance on how to make that happen is the tough part because it requires trying to protect the interests of both the agriculture industry and those seeking to enjoy the lake.

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