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Telecom industry had company in sinking Kasich reform bill: Water users and oil+gas industry had own toxic overreaches

Jack Shaner, December 11, 2014

Statement of OEC Deputy Director Jack Shaner on news that the Ohio Senate has dropped its consideration of House Bill 490, Governor Kasich’s mid-budget review for agriculture, environment, and natural resource policy:

“What began as the Kasich Administration’s promising strengthening of agricultural and environmental policy sadly devolved to a grab bag of giveaways to a handful of narrow special interests. Ohio Senate leaders were wise to set it aside.

“The telecom industry and its cellular lightening-rod amendment was hardly the only industry overreach that helped sink the bill. Sharing the blame are bottlers, mining interests and other large water users and the oil and gas industry whose own toxic excesses put the bill below water.

“Large water users convinced the Ohio House of Representatives to tack on a one-size-fits-all permit formula to prime the pump for thirsty industries to tap Lake Erie tributaries with massive water withdrawals. Conservation leaders and legal scholars warned that the imbalanced measure gave short shrift to harmful impacts to fish habitat and recreation and likely violated the spirit, and perhaps the letter, of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact.

“The industry coalition behind the amendment is the same crew whose overreach in the 2011 Great Lakes Compact bill earned a gubernatorial veto. In his veto message, Gov. Kasich stated that ‘Ohio’s legislation lacks clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage.’ Gov. Kasich’s 2011 finding is equally apt for today’s imbalanced amendment.

“The oil and gas industry, meanwhile, induced the House to weaken new penalty provisions proposed by Gov. Kasich. The industry even had the gall to get the House to propose the repeal of a trio of civil and criminal penalties found in current Ohio law. (See pp. 34-35 of the LSC analysis). ODNR Director James Zehringer found this backslide so distasteful that he asked the Senate to dispose of the industry changes to ‘civil and criminal penalties imposed on the [oil and gas] industry’ saying it posed a ‘large number of concerns” for his department’s ability to “ensure our mission to protect public health and safety and the environment.’ Enough said.

“Several good provisions found in HB 490 went down with the ship. The innocent victim of this collateral damage was the good policy proposed by the Kasich Administration and improved upon by the Ohio House, including provisions to:

  • Ban the spreading of manure and fertilizer on frozen and snow-covered ground in western Lake Erie basin.
  • Ban the disposal of port and harbor dredged material in the open waters of Lake Erie.
  • Increase criminal penalties for Water Pollution Control Law violations.
  • Reduce the allowable lead content in plumbing fixtures from 8% to 0.25%.

“Also knocked out was Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler’s responsible suggestion, voiced during a Senate hearing on HB 490, to fix the roadblock in current Ohio law (ORC Sec. 1509.10(J)(2)) that literally prohibits the ODNR from sharing trade secret chemical information with anyone, including emergency responders and public water utilities responding to or investigating a spill, release, leak, or threatened release at a fracking site. These public officials need full and immediate access to the complete inventory of all chemicals used and stored at oil + gas well sites–not days after an incident, as was the case in the Monroe County chemical fire in June 2014. (See Columbus Dispatch story, “Fracking fire points out failings.”). The reckless shielding of trade secreted information from first responders is the toxic byproduct of a previous oil and gas industry overreach in a legislative debate three years ago (SB 315).

“We encourage the Kasich administration to renew the push for its worthy reforms in January. Meantime, we will work hard to ensure that these special interest overreaches have not died only to live another day in the new legislature.”