Cleveland Plain Dealer. September 1, 2023.
Editorial: Why isn’t Ohio’s congressional delegation raising Cain over state’s fumble of toxic algae plan?
A lot is at stake in Ohio’s efforts to reduce the phosphorus runoff that, year after year, feeds the sickly green scum of toxic algal blooms coating Lake Erie’s western basin. The toxic blooms threaten the future of a freshwater lake that, increasingly in a water-starved nation and world, is a hugely valuable resource.
These harmful algal blooms don’t just mar the landscape or threaten liver damage and possible death to pets or livestock (mostly from the microcystins that are a toxic product of the blooms). They also have enormous economic, recreational and public health implications for the millions of Ohioans who rely on Lake Erie for jobs, drinking water, and recreation.
That’s why it’s so mystifying that a palpably inadequate “plan” Ohio recently submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for how it proposes to tackle Maumee River basin phosphorus runoff has elicited not a peep of discernible protest or action from Ohio’s representatives in Washington. That includes both of Ohio’s senators and others like U.S. Reps. Dave Joyce and Marcy Kaptur who pride themselves on their efforts to win federal money and protections for Lake Erie.
Environmental watchdogs have spoken up, loudly, about the many flaws in Ohio’s plan. Now, Ohio’s congressional delegation needs to add its collective and individual voices, too.
Nothing less than the future health and safety of Lake Erie is on the line.
One reason: Ohio's "Maumee Watershed Nutrient Total Maximum Daily Load" (TDML) plan lists 10 water treatment systems in western Lake Erie, including Toledo's, that have found toxic microcystin at concentrations above the state drinking water threshold in at least three raw water samples in a single year -- in multiple years.
Following the three-day August 2014 drinking-water crisis in western Lake Erie when microcystin was detected at Toledo's water treatment plant and public water supplies were cut for more than half a million people, Ohio revised protocols for treating such water and offered $150 million in interest-free loans along with the technical assistance needed to upgrade the plants.
But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for Ohio to do virtually nothing to tackle the Maumee River basin’s hard-to-track liquified phosphorus runoff that’s coming mainly from agriculture, including the large livestock operations that have proliferated in the Maumee basin in recent years.
Yet doing almost nothing meaningful to cut back on what’s known as “dissolved reactive phosphorus” is effectively what Ohio EPA proposes in the TDML plan it’s submitted to the U.S. EPA pursuant to a federal consent decree.
The federal EPA has until Sept. 30 to accept or revise the plan -- and revise the plan is what a host of concerned voices urges the U.S. EPA to do.
That includes the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC) that filed the original lawsuit that resulted in the consent decree, and Jeff Reutter, the Ohio scientist who co-chaired a binational effort with Canadian scientists that, in 2015, came up with the 40% phosphorus-reduction targets.
Reutter wrote in a recent cleveland.com guest column that the state's TDML plan is fatally flawed by its decision to exclude dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) from its quantified reductions. The plan "does not target DRP, does not attempt to identify problem fields with high concentrations of phosphorus, and does nothing to prevent manure application on fields that already have too much phosphorus," he wrote.
The Ohio EPA argues in the plan that it’s best to just focus on cutting phosphorus overall, since DRP is too hard to quantify as a “nonpoint” source, meaning it has many sources -- including fertilizer and manure runoff, field drainage ditches, underground drainage tile systems, rain events, etc.
But that is a recipe for failure, senior ELPC attorney Rob Michaels told cleveland.com’s Peter Krouse. Michaels argued that not only is DRP the far more dangerous type of runoff, much more efficient at feeding toxic algal blooms, but also that a 40% reduction target in more easily measurable types of sedimentary phosphorus would, by definition, fail to result in meaningful DRP reductions.
Where are your voices, Sens. Sherrod Brown and J.D. Vance, U.S. Reps. Joyce and Kaptur, and others in the Ohio delegation? The U.S. EPA needs to hear from you. And Ohio’s leaders and voters need to hear from you, too.
Ohio can no longer delay tackling the key types of agricultural runoff scientists have determined are most harmful in feeding toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. The stakes are too high.
Toledo Blade. August 31, 2023.
Editorial: Editorial: Use clear ballot verbiage
The revised language by the Republican-controlled Ohio Ballot Board of the proposed abortion rights constitutional amendment should be edited again to restore accuracy so voters have a good understanding of the amendment.
The new ballot language was crafted by a partisan majority last week, ostensibly to make the intent and purpose of the proposed amendment guaranteeing freedom of abortion in Ohio more clear.
In general, it creates more confusion than it does clarity.
At issue is the question that Ohio voters will decide in a statewide election that ends on Nov. 7.
Voters will be able to cast absentee and early votes as early as Oct. 11.
The proposal on the ballot would override Ohio’s current abortion law, which permits abortions up to about 22 weeks of gestation.
As written by the proponents, the proposed Right to Reproductive Freedom with Protections for Health and Safety would add a right for individuals to generally make decisions involving contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care, and abortion.
Government would be prohibited from interfering in abortion decisions before a fetus reaches viability.
Viability would be defined as the point when, in the judgment of the woman’s doctor, the fetus has a “significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures.”
The furious proponents of the abortion rights amendment are appealing to the Ohio Supreme Court to restore the original wording ( "Abortion rights proposal: Supporters suing over Ohio ballot language," Tuesday ).
As it did with the wording of Issue 1 that was defeated on Aug. 8, the Supreme Court needs to step in and do some wordsmithing.
The role of the Ohio Ballot Board should be to make sure the language is neutral and transparent and easy to understand in layman’s language, not lay a thumb on the scale.
As written by its proponents, the amendment is expressed in sterile, clinical, legal language, bereft of the rhetoric that both sides use to influence the public. There is no reference to “woman,” “mother,” or “child.”
The ballot board wants to change “fetus” to “unborn child.” There’s no reason except to elicit an emotional reaction.
One doesn’t have to read between the lines to understand that it bars the Ohio General Assembly from prohibiting abortions for any individual who wants one, up to viability.
After viability, an abortion can be performed at any point if the mother’s doctor says it is necessary to protect her life or health.
The ballot board’s proposed language inserts ungrammatical language. For instance, instead of saying the “pregnant patient” has the right to make one’s reproductive decisions, the ballot board’s language says the “pregnant woman” has the right to “one’s own reproductive medical treatment.”
This is meaningless language, and it’s an abuse of the board’s discretion.
The ballot board’s summary says the amendment would “always allow an unborn child to be aborted” if a physician determines it necessary. Even if the mother doesn’t want the abortion? It’s nonsense and should be corrected.
The Supreme Court should strike all but the most neutral wording changes and allow the proposed amendment to speak for itself — and voters to make intelligent and wise decisions.
Youngstown Vindicator. September 3, 2023.
Editorial: Expand internet access broadly but responsibly
Recent announcements by state and federal governments lavishing millions of dollars on Ohio for expansion of broadband internet may give some the impression the buckeye state will soon seal the deal on high-speed online access for all residents.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yes, the $5 million in federal Department of Agriculture rural broadband loans and grants plus an additional $793 million from Broadband Ohio, both announced this summer, will expand service to unserved and underserved areas of the state and help close the digital divide. But don’t expect any substantial narrowing of that gap anytime too soon.
Take, for example, that $5 million from the USDA.
“This Rural Development investment will be used to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to provide high-speed internet. This network will benefit 38 people and four farms in Seneca, Crawford and Wyandot counties in Ohio,” the USDA said.
Do the math on that award, and the price tag soars to a whopping $132,000 for each individual connected.
Clearly then, these new funds are just a drop in the bucket compared with what’s really needed to finish the herculean task of blanketing every nook and cranny of Ohio with effective internet service.
Equally clear, however, is that our state’s farmers and rural residents cannot be treated as second-class citizens with no lane of their own on the information superhighway. As U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack correctly points out, broadband service no longer is a luxury but instead is a crucial necessity in the lives of virtually all Americans. Patience and adequate funding to complete the task therefore will be key if the United States hopes to come close to reaching President Joe Biden’s lofty goal of providing broadband access to each and every American by 2030. Seven years is not a long time from now when considering the gargantuan nature of the work and expense that lie ahead.
Unfortunately, 22.3% of Americans in rural areas and 27.7% in tribal lands lack high-speed reliable internet coverage, according to a recent report from the Federal Communications Commission. Closer to home, more than 1 million people in Ohio and about 100,000 in the Mahoning Valley also lack that service, estimates show.
Building massive trenches and installing high-speed fiber — the major infrastructures for efficient internet connectivity — are incredibly pricey and logistically difficult. That’s why most cable companies and internet service providers strictly limit their service areas to urban and suburban communities.
That’s also why local, state and federal governments have had to come to the aid of sparsely populated rural areas in providing high-speed internet service. The biggest pot of current funding comes from 2021’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $42.5 billion to help states expand internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs. That figure represents more than half of all government spending by the state of Ohio for this entire fiscal year.
With such enormous spending, federal broadband programs cannot go unchecked. Like any program involving billions and billions of taxpayer dollars, safeguards must be in place to ensure fraud and waste do not dilute the overall effectiveness and impact of internet expansion.
To its credit, the U.S. General Accountability Office this spring released an audit of spending t from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal sources on broadband. It concluded that federal broadband efforts are “fragmented and overlapping, with more than 100 programs administered by 15 agencies.”
With such fragmentation, oversight to monitor proper and responsible spending can become difficult. That’s one reason why the GAO has recommended a national broadband strategy be implemented with clear roles, goals, objectives and performance measures to support better management of programs. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has supported the finding and has agreed to work with the Biden administration in developing and fine-tuning it.
Similarly, state authorities also should work to ensure stringent oversight of Ohio-taxpayer funded internet expansion projects to ensure the biggest bang from taxpayers’ bucks. Federal and state lawmakers, for their part, should continue to press for projects to narrow the digital divide but ensure such programs are solid and spending on them is done responsibly.
We’re hopeful then that with heaping helpings of patience, caution and perseverance, the goal of achieving 100% connectivity for America by 2030 need not be a pipe dream.
Elyria Chronicle. August 31, 2023.
Editorial: Seat belts on school buses add to safety
In the wake a school bus crash that claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was right to form a task force to study improving school bus safety.
Among the ideas under consideration is requiring school buses to have seat belts, which is worth not just studying, but implementing.
The idea has floated around for years, although it has gained limited traction. Only a handful of states require seat belts on school buses — Ohio isn’t one of them — and there is no such federal requirement, at least for bigger school buses. (Smaller school buses, those with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less, are required to have seat belts.)
Larger school buses are designed to protect passengers through what is known as “compartmentalization.” It’s a concept that relies on “strong, closely-spaced seats that have energy-absorbing seat backs,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Of the 108 school bus-related fatalities in 2021, five were bus passengers while another six were bus drivers, who do have the benefit of a seat belt, according to the National Safety Council. The 97 other fatalities involved people in other vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists. There were 9,700 injuries, including to bus passengers, in school bus-related crashes that same year.
(By way of comparison, 46 people died and another 72 were injured in school shootings in the 2020-21 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. School shootings remain a serious problem the nation hasn’t solved, but we digress.)
The school bus statistics show that riding a bus is relatively safe, although compartmentalization doesn’t work in all cases.
The crash that claimed the life of 11-year-old Aiden Clark, a student in Northwestern Schools, on Aug. 22 in Clark County appears to be a case in point.
The Ohio Highway Patrol reported that a minivan veered into the path of the school bus, which tried to avoid the collision and then overturned. The minivan’s driver, Hermanio Joseph, is charged with vehicular homicide in connection with the crash.
Rudy Breglia, an Avon Lake resident who founded the School Bus Safety Alliance, told us Wednesday that a seat belt might have prevented Aiden from being ejected. Breglia acknowledged, however, that troopers need to complete their investigation to know for sure.
Breglia has been pushing for seat belts on buses for years, including in letters to the editor such as one we published Wednesday.
“The buses can be made a lot safer” with seat belts, he told us, because they would keep kids from being ejected during a crash.
He said only a few school districts in Ohio, including Avon Lake Schools, have conducted pilot projects that put seat belts in buses.
We reported in 2020 that the district was having a hard time getting students to use the seat belts as the program was getting underway, which speaks to one obstacle to seat belts.
Breglia said bus drivers worry about liability if there’s a crash and a student who isn’t wearing a seat belt is injured. He said that could be alleviated by districts holding drivers harmless if they remind students to buckle up or check to see if they’ve done so. That’s one solution, although it might prove to be a challenge to do every day for every boarding passenger.
School districts also have been reluctant to add seat belts, he told us, because of the cost.
The Ohio Department of Education pegged the average cost of a new school bus at just under $87,000, and Breglia said seat belts would add 8% to 10% to the price tag. Retrofitting buses to add seat belts costs slightly more.
That leads to the question of who would pick up the tab.
Ideally, Breglia said, if a national or state mandate were imposed, it would be accompanied by funding. Given the penchant of Columbus lawmakers to hand down unfunded mandates, there’s no guarantee that money would be forthcoming if the state were to mandate seat belts.
Even if districts end up picking up the cost themselves, Breglia argued, it probably wouldn’t put much of a dent in their budgets.
Costs have a way of adding up quickly, though, which is why if a seat belt mandate is imposed, the better option is to apply it to newly purchased buses rather than make it retroactive.
School districts generally don’t replace their entire bus fleets in one go, instead buying a few buses each year or every few years.
As DeWine recently pointed out, statistics show that it’s safer for students to ride a bus to school than to be driven in a personal vehicle.
Adding seat belts would make buses even safer, but it should be done without shortchanging students by limiting funding for their education.
Sandusky Register. August 31, 2023.
Editorial: Keep to the schedule
Like the city fathers in Punxsutawney in the movie “Groundhog Day,” the Ohio Redistricting Commission will gather again on Sept. 13, “for organizational purposes and to begin again the process of drafting a redistricting plan for the General Assembly.”
This time, they must get it right.
Ohio Republicans — who have a supermajority on the commission — have just one choice, in our view: Create the fair election districts that Ohioans overwhelmingly support. They know how to do it right, and they are fully equipped to execute a plan that meets the people’s mandate.
Gov. Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and state auditor Keith Faber were members of the five-person commission in 2021 when it defied the commission’s own meeting schedule, the mandate and the state Supreme Court, repeatedly proposing and approving unconstitutional, unfair maps.
DeWine, LaRose and Faber knew full well they were cheating Ohioans of what they demanded. This commission under their dominance did not even endeavor, too much, to even suggest otherwise. Instead, they delivered tainted results directly in defiance of what the people plainly, clearly and forcefully instructed by their votes overwhelmingly approving state constitutional amendments designed to end gerrymandering.
Unfortunately, and sadly, we fear Ohioans should expect more of the same from DeWine, LaRose and Faber — and other Republicans who benefit from the fix. That would be the entire supermajority in the Statehouse. State representatives D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, Dick Stein, R-Norwalk, Gary Click, R-Vickery, and state senators Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, and Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green all helped derail the process in 2021; they must be stopped from derailing it this time.
The Redistricting Commission was created by the people’s mandate, the two statewide votes approving a fair, equitable and lawful process to end gerrymandering of state political districts and Congressional districts. Republicans, as the majority party for the last two decades, previously, had almost unfettered power to draw maps, and they approved maps that guaranteed Republican candidates win elections.
Ohioans must be prepared to firmly tell DeWine, LaRose and Faber — and every other elected official pushing to keep unfair elections — “No. Not this time.”
It was just months ago, they authorized a special August election — the election calendar’s lowest vote turnout slot — for a single ballot measure to remove the people’s power to change the state constitution. Issue 1 was soundly defeated, despite the distorted and false claims the proponents made about it.
Ohioans should keep that momentum and accept nothing less than fair maps that reflect the true nature of the state’s electorate. If DeWine, LaRose and Faber cannot deliver that, according to the prescribed schedule, then this commission should be stripped of its oversight and an independent commission must be established.
Without delays, or improper influence from the High Court.