Judge orders EPA to act on Lake Erie water quality

Apr 12, 2018

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action on Ohio’s 2016 list of impaired waters within 30 days.

In his 25-page order, Judge James Carr criticizes both the Ohio EPA and its federal counterpart for refusing to comply with several parts of the Clean Water Act. 

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie brought the lawsuit last year against the U.S. EPA. The main issue is whether western Lake Erie should be declared an impaired watershed.

Under federal law, that designation forces the state to establish daily limits on pollution. And that's important issue in the western part of Lake Erie, where algae blooms are triggered by agricultural pollution.

Last month, Ohio EPA decided to include Western Lake Erie in its 2018 list.  In his order, Judge Carr says Ohio’s decision does not “moot or reduce the need for me to retain jurisdiction” over the 2016 list. 

The 2018 list also will have to be approved or disapproved by U.S. EPA.

Judge Carr expressed concerns with the manner of U.S. EPA’s action and lack of communication with the court.

Carr says the agency’s “oversight” to inform him of its decision to withdraw approval of Ohio’s 2016 list “amplifies the whiff of bad faith arising from the timing of its inexplicably delayed notice to plantiffs’ counsel.”

In a statement, Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center says “we’re pleased that the federal district court directed U.S. EPA to comply with the Clean Water Act and make a clear determination within 30 days that Lake Erie’s open waters are impaired by pollution.”

The Ohio EPA says it is still reviewing Carr’s decision.