John Kasich made the correct call in vetoing legislation designed to implement the Great Lakes Compact in Ohio. In doing so, the governor infuriated many Republican allies at the Statehouse. They voted for the bill thinking the concerns of the administration had been addressed. After all, the state Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources had nodded their approval.
So, Bill Batchelder, the House speaker, and others have voiced understandable annoyance. Now lawmakers are looking for the way forward. One path that should be avoided is attempting to override the governor’s veto. The numbers may be there to succeed. The override would defy the strong consensus that emerged and inspired the governor to act.
Recall that Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a fellow Republican, expressed concern about the direction of the legislation. So did officials in New York state, citing, among other things, the proposed exemption from regulation of any operation that withdraws up to 5 million gallons per day from Lake Erie. New York has put its threshold at 100,000 gallons.
The legislation approved by Ohio lawmakers featured the highest thresholds of any Great Lake state. Thus, it is a virtual certainty that if enacted, the bill would trigger lawsuits. Or the legislation could launch a race to the bottom, the purpose of the compact unraveling as states press for weaker standards.
What lawmakers should do is follow the lead of the governor, listening to the wide range of knowledgeable voices calling for improved legislation. Bob Taft, a former Ohio governor, warned about “death by 1,000 straws” in citing language that did not account adequately for the cumulative impact of withdrawals from the Lake Erie basin.
By bringing the withdrawal thresholds into line and doing a better job protecting against a mounting impact, Ohio would move smartly toward the aim of the compact. The state also must improve the provisions involving conservation. A voluntary program sounds good. The approach often doesn’t meet the practicality test, regulations requiring bite to be effective.
These advances shouldn’t be seen as diminishing the priorities of businesses tapping into the lake. Rather, as critics, Democrats and Republicans, have argued, the proposed implementing legislation was crafted too narrowly, overlooking the larger economic value of the Lake Erie and the other lakes. The lakes support a multibillion dollar industry involving commercial fishing, recreation and travel.
Fail to protect the lakes, and all of us put at risk not only livelihoods but a natural resource and treasure. That is why each state in the compact must take a balanced approach.
Such balance resides in lawmakers drawing on the alternative legislation proposed by state Rep. Dennis Murray, a Sandusky Democrat. His bill reflects the bipartisan concerns. If anything, the Great Lakes should bring Democrats and Republicans together.
Speaker Batchelder has called the implementing legislation “one of the most important bills for Ohio in our long-term interest.” The governor’s veto amounts to an invitation to get it right – in the interests of Ohioans and the state’s partners in sound stewardship of the Great Lakes.