What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio…

What happens in Ohio stays in Ohio… ….because no other Great Lakes state is foolish enough to do what the Ohio legislature just did.

This week the Ohio Legislature passed a bill that makes a mockery of the Great Lakes Water Resources Compact– the 2008 law passed by Congress and every state (including Ohio) to protect the Great Lakes from diversions and unwise water use. The Compact prohibits diversions of Great Lakes water out of the region and requires the Great Lakes states to enact laws that protect the lakes and their tributaries from excessive water withdrawals and to implement water conservation measures. Of the eight Great Lakes states, only Ohio, and New York have yet to enact the laws needed to implement the Compact, and New York just passed its bill over a week ago.

But Ohio….. Ohio seems intent on abusing Lake Erie and the watersheds that support it in a misguided (and doomed) effort to attract water-wasting businesses.

The Ohio legislation essentially opens the door to massive withdrawals from Lake Erie, rivers in the Lake Erie basin, and underlying groundwater without standards, permitting, or agency review.

Specifically, the legislation exempts all withdrawals from Lake Erie under 5 million gallons per day, and all withdrawals from streams and groundwater under 2 million gallons per day (except for “high quality” streams, where the exemption is up to 300,000 gallons per day) . Those exemptions reportedly prompted the spokesman for the business-backed Coalition for Sustainable Water Management to say that no business has ever faced regulation in Ohio for consuming more than 2 million gallons a day – so no business in Ohio will ever need a permit to use water unless they withdraw from high-quality streams.

No other state has declared open season on Great Lakes water like Ohio is poised to do. Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania all regulate withdrawals over 100,000 gallons per day. Minnesota’s threshold is 10,000 gallons per day.

But the Ohio lawmakers seem to believe that this law will give them a competitive advantage, that businesses will rush to Ohio to escape the water regulations of other states.

Which businesses? Not the businesses who need clean and plentiful water over the long term. Those businesses will be concerned about the lack of foresight and planning from Ohio’s political leaders on water use.

And they’ll be particularly concerned about Ohio’s rush to drill thousands of natural gas wells without adequate safeguards, because those wells will further dry up Ohio’s water supplies.

Not the businesses in the knowledge economy who are mobile and decide where to locate based on quality of life. Those businesses will move to another Great Lakes state, where the Great Lakes are protected, where the state has a commitment to protecting inland lakes and streams from depletion and pollution.

So which businesses are Ohio lawmakers trying to attract? The water-wasters: the companies who are looking for short-term profits over long-term sustainability; the businesses who will use up Ohio’s precious resources and leave.

That’s quite a business strategy to inflict on the citizens and responsible businesses of Ohio. Will it work? Let’s see what the Brookings Institution has to say:

“The Midwestern states that surround the Great Lakes are in a time of economic transition – from an agricultural and industrial era that relied on the Great Lakes and its waterways for transportation and industrial production, to a global knowledge economi in which the lakes are both an increasing valuable resource, and a valuable amenity. Outside the region, the United States and other nations around the world are increasingly looking for ways to move beyond economic growth patterns that diminish natural resources to those that support long-term sustainable development. The Great Lakes and their abundant fresh water offer a doorway to this new economy.”

Ohio is shutting that door. The irony here is that Ohio has actually put itself in a worse competitive position for attracting and retaining business. That’s why former Ohio Governor Bob Taft and former Ohio Governor and Senator George Voinovich, both Republicans, have called on their Republican colleagues in the state legislature to redo the bill.

And so have the leading newspapers in the state, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Dayton Daily News, the Morning Journal and the Akron Beacon Journal.

So now this bill that’s bad for the Great Lakes, bad for Ohio’s rivers and streams, and bad for Ohio business goes to Governor Kasich to his signature or veto.

Governor, this is a no-brainer. Send this bill back to the legislature with instructions that it comes up with a win-win, not a lose-lose.

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