(Editor’s note: Farm and Dairy viewed the House session via the The Ohio Channel)
SALEM, Ohio — The Ohio House of Representatives unanimously approved its own version of a new water quality bill March 10, that would prohibit the spreading of manure and fertilizer on frozen and snow-covered ground in the western Lake Erie basin.
Known as H.B. 61, the bill would also codify various other rules related to nutrient application, the monitoring of public water treatment plants, and open lake dredging into Lake Erie.
The House bill joins a similar measure approved by the Ohio Senate Feb. 18, known as S.B. 1. Both bills are intended to reduce the bloom of harmful algae on Lake Erie, which in August resulted in a temporary ban on drinking water in Toledo.
“We want the most economically viable, environmentally clean water in the state and this legislation is a start in the direction of really turning our situation upward,” said Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, one of the bill’s sponsors.
The struggle has been — as Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, said — “balancing” the need for food production with the need for also having clean water.
In his comments before the vote, Patterson reiterated testimony by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation that “Clean water cannot come at the expense of food production, nor can farming trump the need for clean water.”
Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, said the bill addresses agriculture’s contribution to the issue, and other bills are being worked on that will address other pollutants.
He said it’s important to understand that farmers have been doing some things for generations, like spreading manure, and that changes won’t come easy.
“You just can’t say a snap of the finger and we’re going to change things,” he said. “This bill allows the process of education — helping and partnering with the farming community.”
The House bill differs from the Senate bill in that it includes a somewhat lengthier process to educate farmers and bring them into compliance — before issuing fines.
Before a fine can be issued, the House bill requires that the farmer be notified of the issue, corrective actions and be given a time period to act. The farmer could also develop an approved “technically feasible and economically reasonable” plan for ending or preventing the violation.
The penalty process has drawn criticism from some environmental groups and others who want a swifter means of issuing penalties against violating farmers. But Hall said the process needs time, and farmers will need education.
“If there’s a farmer who is having an issue where they look like they’ve gone beyond the parameters of this bill, there’s going to be a process of helping educate that farmer and understanding it’s not a gotcha bill,” he said. “It’s a partnering with the fellow farmers.”
The House bill also differs in that it requires a three-year review to assess the effect of the prohibitions. The Senate bill calls for a five-year review via a sunset provision, which would terminate the prohibitions unless the Senate and House ag committee to recommend to the governor that they be continued.
Lawmakers and some farm organizations have said that the review gives a chance to review whether the prohibitions are justified, and to what extent new technology and new factors may justify amending the prohibitions.
Some environmentalists have argued that the prohibitions that are right today will be right into the future and should not be permitted to expire.
The House bill also prohibits open-lake dredging in Lake Erie’s Maumee water basin beginning July 1, 2020.
The Senate bill does the same, but prohibits open-lake dredging from all of Ohio’s portion of Lake Erie.
Dredging contributes to the nutrient issue, partly because it pushes nutrients and soil sediment further into the lake.
Also, the Senate bill includes an emergency clause, which could potentially expedite the bill’s enactment.
The prohibitions, if approved by the governor, would join a bill approved last year by the legislature that requires farmers who apply fertilizer to more than 50 acres, to become state-certified.
House bill provisions:
• Prohibits, with certain exceptions, the application of manure or fertilizer in the western Lake Erie basin on frozen ground, on saturated soil, and during certain weather conditions.
• The prohibitions do not affect any restrictions established in the Concentrated Animal Feeding Facilities Law or apply to those entities or facilities that are permitted as concentrated animal feeding facilities under that law.
• Exempts a person in the western Lake Erie basin from the prohibitions if the person applies manure or fertilizer, as applicable, under specified circumstances, including injecting the fertilizer or manure into the ground and incorporating the fertilizer or manure within 24 hours of surface application.
• Authorizes the Director of Agriculture or the Director’s designee or the Chief of the Division of Soil and Water Resources in the Department of Natural Resources or the Chief’s designee to investigate complaints filed against a person that violates the applicable prohibition, including applying for a search warrant.
• Precludes the chief from assessing a civil penalty against a person that is violating or has violated the prohibition against the application of manure unless the person is notified of the deficiencies, given a time to correct the deficiencies. The chief affords the person an opportunity for an adjudication hearing to challenge the violation or civil penalty.
• Allows farmers to request assistance from the chief to develop technically feasible and economically reasonable measures, or a plan and a schedule, to implement the measures or plan in order to cease or prevent violations.
• Requires the amount of the civil penalty for violation of either of the prohibitions to be determined in rules, but prohibits the penalty from being more than $10,000.
• States that it is the intent of the General Assembly that legislation transferring the administration and enforcement of the Agricultural Pollution Abatement Program from the Department of Natural Resource Department of Agriculture must be enacted not later than July 1.
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