Ohio’s Legislature Versus the Environment

Ohio’s Legislature Versus the Environment

On June 27, 2001 the Ohio General Assembly enacted Substitute House Bill 231 (H.B. 231), a new law that severely erodes existing protections for almost half of Ohio’s remaining wetlands. Even though Ohio has already lost more than 90% of its original wetlands, three forces have combined to threaten the remainder—powerful lobbying forces on the part of developers, an Ohio General Assembly whose stance is anti-environment, and the Taft Administration’s reticence to embrace the environment.

This new legislation comes on the heels of the January 9, 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (or SWANCC). H.B. 231 considered only “isolated wetlands”, those wetlands seemingly unconnected to other surface water such as a river or lake. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimates that “isolated wetlands” make up 45% of the remaining wetlands in Ohio.

Ohio wetlands lost in the legislative process. The existing three-step approach starting with wetland avoidance, then minimization of impact, and lastly mitigation has disappeared. The numerous rollbacks in “isolated wetland” protection include:

  • elimination of requirements to analyze alternative development approaches that avoid wetland impacts;
  • weakening the public participation requirements; and
  • elimination of requirements to evaluate the social and economic need for wetlands destruction.

As unfortunate as the above developments are, there is additional legislation introduced that targets wetlands. House Bill 320 has been introduced and contains sweeping rollbacks of existing water quality protections for “connected wetlands” and all of Ohio’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Legislative debate will begin when the Ohio General Assembly returns to Columbus in September. Concerted efforts by Ohio environmental groups were not enough to derail H.B. 231. House Bill 320 is now the next challenge.

[Thanks to Jeff Skelding of the Ohio Environmental Council for background information.]

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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.