A Great Lakes Moment
By Kristy Meyers
Hundreds of people descended on Capitol Hill this February to meet with Congressional members. The agenda—restore and protect our Great Lakes. Government, business and non-profit leaders joined together to share success stories from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), including projects to reduce nutrient runoff and clean-up polluted harbors.
During this year’s visit, a small group of people were invited to the White House for a meeting with various federal officials. At this meeting, we learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) will be speeding up its study of how to separate the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins to protect the lakes from the destructive Asian carp.
Another topic discussed at the White House was the nutrient pollution overtaking Lake Erie. As a result of the meeting, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service convened a conference call with a small group of environmental-conservation groups on how to fix the nutrient problem plaguing Lake Erie. We made eight specific requests. (See www.theoec.org/Water.htm).
The pledges and efforts were impressive. But the devil is always in the details. Can the U.S. ACE’s study be completed in 18 months or less? Will the Obama team actually move forward on some of our requests? Will Congress act? We must hold our officials’ feet to the fire and ensure that these efforts not only are carried out, but actually produce meaningful results.
On the state level, State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon) pulled the rug out from under Gov. Kasich with the unexpected introduction of House Bill 473, a revised bill to implement the Great Lakes Compact. Wachtmann had sponsored a flawed Compact bill that Kasich vetoed last July.
The Kasich administration had been working with the House to craft a new bill since the Governor vetoed an overly industry-friendly bill approved mostly along party-lines by the General Assembly last summer. The vetoed bill was opposed by former Ohio Governors Bob Taft and George Voinovich, the Governors of Michigan and New York, and environmental-conservation groups.
While the new bill is much improved, Governor Kasich’s staff has signaled publicly that the bill’s introduction was unexpected and that several important issues remain unresolved.
Conservation groups credit Kasich and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for achieving substantial improvements in the new bill, including, significantly reduced limits on the amount of water an industrial operation may withdraw or use before triggering a permit, strengthening protections for high-quality streams and grounding in science the management of Ohio’s Lake Erie basin water.
However, the bill would repeal the current Ohio law that requires that both Lake Erie and its tributaries be protected from large water uses. Instead, it extends protections only if the entire Lake Erie basin is threatened by a proposed water withdrawal, leaving individual tributaries and groundwater vulnerable to harm. This flies in the face of the Compact and current Ohio law, which require that tributaries be protected from any water withdrawal or use that may cause significant harm.
In an unprecedented move, HB 473 would restrict anglers, boaters and other Lake Erie recreational water users to appeal a water withdrawal or water use decision that may negatively impact their ability to enjoy Ohio’s rivers and streams. It would allow only water users that can prove injury to a direct economic or property interest to appeal a permit decision. This is an outright abandonment of Ohio’s public trust responsibility and a radical move toward privatizing Ohio’s water and natural resources.
HB 473 measures water withdrawals and consumptive uses based on an average over a 90-day period as opposed to a “per day” measure. This opens the door for extractive activities, including oil and gas fracking operations, to withdraw and/or consume quantities of water in excess of permit thresholds without having to obtain a permit. For example, a facility could withdraw 6 million gallons of water in a single day and not consume any more water over the remainder of the 90-day period and not trigger the bill’s proposed gallons-per day threshold for needing to seek a permit.
As the legislation currently is written, water users seeking an experimental permit do not have to meet all the provisions of the decision-making standard within the Compact, particularly the “no significant impact” provision. This provision is required, however, if a permittee wanted to pursue using the technology under the new or increased water withdrawal and consumptive use regulatory program. In addition, the legislation does not outline how many times a water user could apply for this type of permit.
This new legislation allows water users to start building their capacity to withdraw or consume water before being granted a permit, if they are not seeking to pull from a high-quality stream, a first time occurrence in environmental policies. While an applicant would not be allowed to withdraw or consume water without a permit from state regulators, the bill gives industry an economic windfall argument when balancing economic and societal needs against environmental protections.
Lake Erie is a precious resource that is vital to people, wildlife and jobs. Lake Erie supplies drinking water to 11 million people. Tourism and travel in the Lake Erie basin generates $10 billion annually to the Ohio economy and supplies $1.4 billion in federal, state and local taxes.
TAKE ACTION: Contact your state representative and senator today at 800-282-0253 or www.legislature.state.oh.us. and ask them to not roll back protections for tributaries, allow recreational users to appeal a water withdrawal permit, close all loopholes and require water thresholds for a permit be based on a per day basis.
For more information, contact Kristy Meyers at 614-487-5842 or Kristy@theOEC.org.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.