No. 8 — Defense on the part of Enviros prevails as lack of money takes on politics in the State Budget Battle
A 2009 Top Ten of Environmental Hits and Misses would not be complete without a reference to the State Biennial Operating Budget. And much like everything in Columbus, even the legislative process takes on eerie similarities to college football. This year saw the same political chest-pounding and head-butting and (perhaps intensified by the partisan split in the current General assembly); multiple overtimes (and continuing resolutions); gambling on gambling to fill gaping holes in the General Revenue Fund (GRF) line; and of course, environmental protection and conservation programs running out of time. In the end, the game was essentially a tie, as the staunch defense of the environmental and conservation community came through.
As the revenue numbers and projections came out throughout 2009, environmental and conservation advocates braced themselves for a long, hard fought battle in the trenches. After the General Assembly divided the dwindling tax dollars to fund medication, education, and incarceration, there would be very little left to protect Ohio’s Natural Resources. Here are some highlights:
Losses for Natural Resources
The Governor’s proposed budget carried with it one of the most important funding proposals, that would have opened up the GRF funds to human health and education priorities, instead of continuing to . The energy extraction fee essentially was a permitting fee on coal, oil, and natural gas extraction industry to fund the ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management – the division whose mere existence is to keep these industries working in Ohio. However, as usual, the industry lobby said ‘No, we don’t have to pay,’ and the General Assembly struck this needed funding source.
Further on the downside, natural resources were dealt a series of deep funding cuts. This will take a serious toll on the ability of Ohio’s 88 county soil and water conservation programs to conserve topsoil and stop polluted farm fields and city streets from entering waterways.
Even more wounding is Governor Strickland’s decision to completely zero out funding for the agencies that are responsible for protecting state nature preserves and the mapping of Ohio’s underground resources. Ohio’s 134 state nature preserves represent the last remaining bit of Ohio’s wilderness. Without funding, their future may be threatened from neglect and the encroachment of invasive species.
With no organized geological survey, Ohio will know less about groundwater sources and will risk falling further behind in the race to develop deep underground storage places for the long-term capture and storage of carbon.
Wins for Environmental Protection
Turning to good news, we are grateful for the Administration and the General Assembly for continuing Ohio’s Scenic and Wild Rivers program, which returns benefits to paddlers and recreation enthusiasts looking for more ‘staycation’ opportunities as well as will continue to enjoy public lands unspoiled by the threatened specter of oil and gas drilling in state parks, nature preserves, historic sites, and even Lake Erie.
Praise as well goes to the cooler heads that prevailed, and the great defense played by organizations such as the Ohio Environmental Council, when the General Assembly ultimately junked several thoughtless proposals, including ones to:
- Redefine scrap tires, trash, street dirt, and coal methane gas as renewable energy;
- Sneak in the Senate’s ‘regulatory reform package’ which would have let employers of up to 500 workers avoid full compliance with health, safety, and environmental protections that may pose an undefined “adverse impact” to the business as measured by a “cost/benefit analysis” that considers only impacts to the business, not benefits to public health, worker safety, or environmental protection
- Water down the definition of ‘unrecognizable waste’ in construction and demolition landfills, which could open the door to the acceptance of toxic waste-tainted waste; and
- Narrow the minimum five-foot separation distance between CD&D landfill waste and groundwater
OELC and Ohio Environmental Council will be working hard with our colleague groups and state officials to secure necessary funding for Geologic Survey to do necessary site characterization for carbon storage in Ohio, as well as secure funding for Natural Areas and Preserves. However, the budget process merely was a precursor to the 2010 political wranglings at the Statehouse that will threaten Ohio’s Natural Resources and Human and Environmental Health. We will be faced with the return of Oil and Gas drilling in our parks; with efforts to displace renewable energy sources with the burning of the most objectionable materials one can imagine; ‘regulatory reform’ that is meant to make beuracracy less daunting for small business, but could allow environmental permits to go through without proper review; and attempts to slowly erode environmental protections. However, as Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said, “Offense sells tickets; Defense wins championships”, so goes the Ohio General Assembly. While offensive proposals will continue to be introduced, the great defense of the environmental and conservation community will prevail in the end.