Columbus — Republicans in the Ohio House are considering dozens of amendments to legislation that would increase penalties against those who break the state’s oil and gas regulations, with changes addressing algae issues likely to be included in the chamber’s final version of the bill.
Rep. Dave Hall (R-Millersburg), who serves as chairman of the House’s agriculture committee, said he hoped to convene a hearing on HB 490 in coming weeks to hear from interested parties, make changes and position the legislation for passage shortly after the legislature returns to session after the November election.
Algae issues are among the topics being discussed, following a Lake Erie bloom that left hundreds of thousands of residents without drinkable tap water earlier this month. Environmental advocates and other groups are calling for tougher regulations related to fertilizer and manure applications and other potential runoff being blamed for algae issues around the state.
“We have at least 40 [amendments] to go through and discuss,” Hall said. “We’re starting that process, and I expect probably other amendments to show up here probably dealing with algae.”
Among other provisions, HB 490 would expand the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ authority to revoke or suspend drilling and related activities of those who break the state’s environmental regulations. The legislation also would tighten requirements for transporting brine and increase potential prison time and civil penalties for violations.
The bill was offered, in part, in response to a Youngstown-area dumping incident. The man involved, Ben Lupo, was recently sentenced to 28 months in federal prison and fined $25,000.
“What we need are more severe penalties for the bad actors in this industry,” Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) said in a released statement shortly after the verdict was announced. “This is not the first time illegal dumping has occurred in the state, and those who violate this law are often repeat offenders … While I encourage the continued exploration of oil & gas in the Mahoning Valley and throughout the state we must have strong laws in place to preserve the environment and protect the public.”
HB 490 includes numerous other proposed law changes affecting ODNR and the Ohio Department of Agriculture and would serve as a ready vehicle for algae-related regulations.
Sen. Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and Rep. Chris Redfern (D-Catawba Island) and other lawmakers representing districts along Lake Erie also have scheduled a forum the week of Aug. 11 to discuss the algae situation.
Hall said he hoped to have additional committee hearings in September.
“If we see something that is doable, HB 490 probably is going to be the last attempt before this general assembly is finished, unless the Senate wants to take up something quick as a standalone bill.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.