Budget Watch

Every two years, the Ohio General Assembly must approve a new operating budget. The biennial budget sets Ohio’s public policy priorities by determining which programs will receive funding and at what amount. The budget bill typically includes a number of policy changes in addition to funding decisions, and many of these changes will have a direct impact on the health and protection of Ohio’s environment and natural resources.

Read full budget text, LSC analysis, and fiscal notes, here.

OEC’S TOP 3 BUDGET PRIORITIES:

1. Protecting first responders and local communities during chemical fires, spills, leaks, and other environmental emergency events

SERC emergency preparedness study

A year ago, Charleston, WV experienced a massive chemical spill when a chemical storage tank ruptured, leaking poisonous fluid into Elk Creek. Over 300,000 people lost their drinking water as a result. Is Ohio adequately protected from such a risk?

The OEC is proposing that the General Assembly require the State Emergency Response Commission to review and report back on local and state agencies' emergency response capabilities and best practices.

Timely disclosure of trade-secret chemicals to first responders and public water officials

Under current Ohio law, trade-secret chemicals used on fracking sites cannot be disclosed to drinking water utilities or emergency first-responders in the wake of a fire, leak, or spill. This presents a SERIOUS public health risk, endangers first responders’ lives, and prevents drinking water officials from being able to identify and appropriately warn citizens.

The OEC is fighting to require fracking operators to disclose this information to state and local emergency responders in the event of a fracking well accident, and to allow both agencies to notify first-responders immediately after the accident is reported. Fracking operators would also be required to respond to disclosure requests within an hour.

Consistent compliance with Federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

Ohio’s Executive Budget directs the oil and gas industry to report chemical information (non trade-secret chemical information) to the ODNR Division of Oil and Gas, to comply with the Federal law. Every other industry, however, reports its chemicals to the State Emergency Response Commission. The oil and gas industry doesn't deserve special treatment.

The executive budget provision should be rejected, and instead, reporting through the SERC should be required.

2. Holding bad actors accountable and protecting aquatic wildlife from water withdrawals

Strengthened penalties for oil and gas law violators

Several high-profile violations of Ohio oil and gas law have led to resident evacuations, water contamination, and wildlife destruction. The law should be strengthened to deter such violations by strengthening criminal penalties.

Governor Kasich’s original proposal to strengthen penalties for oil and gas law violations should be added back into the budget.

Background checks on oil and gas applicants

Under existing Ohio law, the notorious operator who ordered thousands of gallons of oil and gas waste to be dumped into a storm sewer draining to the Mahoning River could obtain a permit to operate again.

Governor Kasich’s original proposal to require background checks on oil and gas applicants should be reinstated into the budget.

Headwater stream wildlife protection from water withdrawals

Sensitive wildlife living in small, headwater streams can be harmed by large water withdrawals.

To adequately asses water withdrawal threats to wildlife habitat, the OEC wants the law to require the ODNR Oil and Gas Division to consult with ODNR wildlife and soil and water divisions.

3. Help more Ohioans connect to jobs and other important destinations through public transit.

Increase state funding support for public transit for both rural and urban public transit providers

Ohio ranks near the bottom for state funding investment in public transit - just 63 cents per capita, annually. Meanwhile, low-wage workers struggle to find affordable transportation options to get to work; Ohio's aging population is searching for alternative transportation options to get to medical and other important appointments; and the growing Millennial group is moving away from car-dependent communities.

Ohio should follow the recommendation of Ohio Department of Transportation's Statewide Pubic Transit Needs Study, which identified an additional $96.7MM in operating funds ($49.2MM for rural transit systems and $47.5MM for urban transit systems) and $192.4MM in capital investment to purchase new vehicles and infrastructure to meet existing unmet demand.

ADDITIONAL BUDGET ISSUES

Helping farmers keep soil and nutrients on their fields and protect water quality

State matching funds for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts

The Executive Budget is proposing no increase in state matching funds for local SWCD funding.

We need increased funding to enhance the efforts of local SWCDs to assist farmers to more effectively implement the "4R" practices (applying the right source of nutrients, at the right rate, right time, in the right place) and make other soil and water conservation improvements.

Nutrient management plans for western Lake Erie watershed

The Kasich Administration and the General Assembly are making steady progress in the effort to reduce nutrient pollution and resultant toxic algae in the western basin of Lake Erie. But more needs to done to ensure that crop and livestock operations follow the "4Rs" -- right source of nutrients, at the right rate, right time, in right place.

Ohio should follow the recommendation of the 2012 Directors' Report on Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality by designating the western basin of Lake Erie a Critical Natural Resource Area.

Track manure exports from Confined Animal Feeding Operations

1.7 million pounds of phosphorus in livestock manure was transported from the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed in 2013, according to state regulators. It is unknown where this nutrient source ended up and how much was applied in the western Lake Erie watershed.

To truly address nutrient pollution from manure, Ohio should require better reporting by CAFO operators and Certified Livestock Managers to the Ohio Department of Agriculture director. Specifically, they should be required to disclose the total amount of livestock manure that is applied and the ultimate recipient to which CAFO manure may be sold or transferred.

Fund water quality monitoring and applied research

Additional monitoring is necessary to better pinpoint where to emphasize nutrient management.

We need increased funding to emphasize water quality monitoring by the Ohio Sea Grant Program, Heidelberg University's National Center for Water Quality Research, and the Healthy Lake Erie Fund.

Holding private contractors accountable for stream and wetland protection

The budget bill proposes to privatize water pollution control for mining and other projects that disrupt small streams and wetlands. We believe this may endanger aquatic wildlife and water quality.

Our preferred solution is to reject this budget language and maintain Ohio's successful 35-year program administered by independent government scientists.

Conserving Ohio's forestland to save taxpayers money, promote local travel and tourism opportunities, and to offer tax incentives for private woodlot owners

Encouraging mature, old growth state forestland

ODNR continues to overemphasize forest development over conservation. This deprives the public the full benefit of its state forests, including enhanced opportunities for a wilderness experience and eco-tourism business owners. See the comprehensive Shawnee State Forest Economic Study from October 2010.

OEC is asking lawmakers to amend the mission of the Ohio Division of Forestry to emphasize both forest development and conservation, including mature, old-growth forest. Ohio law also should require the Division of Forestry to annually report to the General Assembly the full costs of its timber harvest program, including the cost of forest roads.

Encouraging private woodlot owners to conserve mature woods + promote stream buffers

Ohio tax law rewards landowners for harvesting, but not conserving, their woodlots.

Lawmakers should amend Ohio law to also offer property tax breaks for managing woodlots for old growth and/or for maintaining forest buffers near streams.

Leveraging the private market to help commercial businesses save money, clean the air and spur job growth

OEC is supporting a proposal to help commercial building owners save money and improve the energy performance of their buildings through an option called On-Bill Repayment. Under OBR, the building owner borrows money from a private lender, then repays the loan over time through their utility bill. Estimates suggest an Ohio OBR policy could generate more than 21,000 job-years; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 44MM tons; and spur up to $3B in investment in clean energy in Ohio - all at no cost to Ohio taxpayers or utility ratepayers. See the EDF factsheet.