Ohio governor vetoes bill on Great Lakes water use

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Gov. John Kasich vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed Ohio factories to pull more water out of Lake Erie, amid pressure from governors from other Great Lakes states who expressed concerned about the measure.

Kasich, a first-term Republican, said in a statement that he was vetoing the bill because portions of it must be improved.

"Namely, Ohio's legislation lacks clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage," he said.

Under the bill, businesses would be able to take an average of 5 million gallons of water a day from Lake Erie over a 90-day period and 2 million gallons from rivers and groundwater feeding into the lake. Companies that surpass that amount would need a permit. The bill would also create a water withdrawal regulatory program.

Environmental groups and former Republican Govs. Bob Taft and George Voinovich of Ohio said the legislation could end up harming Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday expressed concern with the bill and said there could be legal action if it became law. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder's office questioned whether the measure would serve regional goals to protect the Great Lakes.

A report by the National Wildlife Federation this week was critical of the Ohio measure, saying it would allow for the region's most permissive withdrawal standards.

Supporters have argued that increased water use for businesses would bring new work to the state's industrial belt and to cities such as Cleveland and Toledo, which have lost thousands of jobs in recent years

But in vetoing the bill, Kasich said, "Lake Erie is an incredible resource that demands our vigilant stewardship to maximize its environmental, recreational and commercial potential for Ohioans."

Kasich had faced a Monday deadline to act on the bill. It was the governor's first veto since taking office in January.

The Republican-led Ohio Legislature gave the bill final approval June 28. The three-fifths majority in each chamber that would be needed to override Kasich's veto may be in reach. The bill surpassed that 20-vote threshold in the Senate when it passed, and cleared the House with 60 votes — the exact amount that would be needed to override the veto.

Senate President Tom Niehaus said in a statement that he was disappointed the administration — through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency — didn't share any lingering problems with the measure while it was in the Senate.

Niehaus, a New Richmond Republican, said nothing in the legislation should have been a surprise because the Legislature had been working on the proposal for nearly two years.

"That said, we are prepared to go back and work with the governor and business community to address any lingering issues and pass a bill that not only protects Lake Erie, but also allows us to use this great natural resource to attract business and grow jobs," Niehaus added.

House Speaker William Batchelder, a Republican, said the bill required earlier review from members of Kasich's cabinet than it had received, and he hoped to hold hearings again on the topic.

"This legislation, in whatever form, needs attention so that Ohio continues its stewardship of Lake Erie and the streams which are tributaries of the lake," Batchelder said in a statement.

Batchelder did not say whether he planned to pursue an override of Kasich's veto, a process that would have to start in the House.

The legislation was aimed at aligning the state's goals with those of the Great Lakes Compact, of which Indiana is a part.

The eight states and two Canadian provinces adjoining the lakes negotiated the compact to prevent the region's water from being shipped or piped to arid regions. Adopted in 2008, the pact outlaws such diversions with rare exceptions. It also requires the states to regulate their own large-scale withdrawals from the lakes, their tributary streams and underground sources.

They have until December 2013 to implement the deal.

Taft was a key figure in compact negotiations, and raised concerns about the bill during a legislative appearance last month. He said then that the measure establishes thresholds for removing water from Lake Erie and criteria for judging the impact of withdrawals that appear to violate the compact. He predicted the proposal would spark litigation against Ohio and other lake states.

Michigan's attorney general said the Ohio bill could have been in conflict with the compact.

"I applaud Gov. Kasich's decision to slow this process down and take a closer look at the effects of Ohio's legislation on the health of our waters," Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.

Environmental groups, including the Ohio Environment Council and National Wildlife Federation, praised the governor for vetoing the bill.

"Maybe now big business will get down to business and work responsibly to help craft a balanced plan," said Kristy Meyer, the council's director of agricultural and clean water programs.

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