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Toledo Legal News - News Farm Bureau critical of Kasich executive order


The Ohio Farm Bureau wasted no time in criticizing Gov. John Kasich's executive order aimed at aggressively protecting the waters of Lake Erie at what they perceive as farmers' expense.

Kasich's proposal takes aim at the nutrient runoff from agricultural production in the lake's watersheds, particularly the western basin. The fertilizer that winds up in area waterways is thought to be the leading cause of the toxic algae blooms that have frustrated the region for several years.

In a statement, the Farm Bureau accused the governor of abandoning one of his most basic principles by devising unilateral regulations of the farming practices on more than 2 million acres of land in northwest Ohio in an attempt to improve Lake Erie water quality.

So much for the transparency and inclusive nature of the governor's Common Sense Initiative, bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp chided.

"We can't even react to the specific regulations he's proposing; we haven't seen them," he said.

The bureau plans to file a formal public records request to get a better idea of what it is the governor expects from the order.

Sharp faulted the plan for having no realistic recognition of the time or the financial or educational resources required for compliance.

He suggested it is likely the executive order's regulations will clash with multiple layers of existing regulation.

Kasich has ordered Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dave Daniels to deem eight watersheds in Lake Erie's western basin as distressed watersheds and work with the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to develop rules for the use, storage, handling and control of nutrients, and the development of management plans for all agricultural land and operations within each designated watershed.

The "distressed" designation may only be removed after Daniels or a successor has confirmed sustained recovery, restoration and mitigation of factors leading to the original designation.

The eight watersheds are Platter, Little Flat Rock and Eagle creeks, and the Little Auglaize, Auglaize, Blanchard, St. Marys and Ottawa rivers

Sharp said it was curious that the executive order addresses agriculture solely and not "other pieces of the water puzzle," considering that the administration has prioritized other water quality initiatives ahead of farm conservation programs.

He said the Kasich administration is on record having invested about $3 billion to improve Lake Erie water quality, while only 1 percent of the amount was used to address agriculture's portion of the water quality challenge.

"If we weren't a priority for state resources, why are we a priority for state regulation?" Sharp posed.

Kasich was incredulous at the bureau's assertions.

"... There have been more discussions, more deliberations, and the answer's not 'don't do anything,'" he said. "Are you trying to kid me?"

Kasich said his ag director, himself a farmer, has taken more heat than anybody from the agricultural community.

"So don't say that the agricultural community was thwarted here," the governor continued. "The agricultural community, if they say 'we're going to do nothing,' that's not acceptable."

The governor views the executive order as a means to the same end sought by the legislature, which, as Kasich suggested, is wavering on certain elements of existing law.

"Some in the legislature say that we already have the authority (invested in the executive order)," he said. "So, it's pretty interesting - they say we have the authority, but they don't want to make it specific.

"If you take a look at the law, the law has to do with anything that holds soil."

Sharp said bureau members support the newly enacted Clean Lake 2020 legislation, which provides funding of up to $20 million in a targeted phosphorus reduction fund and $3.5 million to support soil testing and development of nutrient management plans because it recognizes the complex needs of farmers in relation to protecting Lake Erie water quality.

Working together is always the preferred approach to address agricultural concerns, he said.

Kasich said his order will build upon a number of earlier efforts by state agencies and their partners to improve water quality throughout Ohio.

KEITH ARNOLD, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

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