The “distressed” designation in Grand Lake St. Marys led to a ban on winter manure application and placed strong emphasis on other nutrient management practices for farms in the watershed.

“Watersheds in distress” revisions this month

By Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor and Director, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

The legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) has voted to send the “watersheds in distress” rule revisions back to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). JCARR reviews administrative rules to make sure they follow legal requirements. The “watersheds in distress” rules seek to address agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality. At its December meeting, JCARR members voted 8 to 1 to recommend that ODA revise and refile the rules for consideration at JCARR’s next meeting on Jan. 22, 2019.

The Jan. 22 meeting date effectively removes Governor Kasich’s administration from the rules revision. Kasich issued an executive order last July directing his agencies to prepare the controversial rule package. But the incoming DeWine Administration will control the fate of the rules after Jan. 14, 2019. JCARR is apparently counting on the new administration to take a different approach on agricultural nutrient pollution reduction.

“There will be a new administration and we’ll have maybe more productive talks,” said JCARR’s chair, Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland). “The DeWine Administration has demonstrated an interest on working with stakeholders on this issue.”

The lack of stakeholder involvement was a common concern voiced by JCARR members, who stated that the rules had been rushed and did not involve all of the interested parties. Several committee members also suggested that the rules are inconsistent with legislative intent and will have a significant adverse impact on farmers. The Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, and Ohio Farm Bureau echoed those criticisms to JCARR members while several local residents, local groups and the Ohio Environmental Council testified that the rules would not sufficiently protect water quality.

If ODA fails to refile the rules proposal for the January meeting, JCARR will have 31 days to recommend that the Ohio General Assembly invalidate the rules. That action would allow each chamber five days to pass a resolution invalidating the rules. If the concurrent resolution does not pass within that time period, the rules would stand. Alternatively, ODA could remove the proposal from JCARR’s agenda and refile revised rules at a later date, a likely course of action for the incoming DeWine administration.

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