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Ohio EPA director calls for improving the agency’s permitting process
The head of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is determined to improve the permitting process at the agency, which has more than 1,300 rules.
“Some of the rules are long in the tooth and need to be reviewed. There’s a mandatory five-year review but for some that’s not quick enough. Most definitely we can improve (this process),” said Scott Nally, the Ohio EPA’s director. Appointed six months ago, Nally is already working hard at figuring out how to simplify and speed up the EPA’s permitting and compliance process.
“I’ve always been a proponent that environment and business do not need to be mutually exclusive,” Nally said on Town Hall Ohio, OFBF’s radio show. “You can be a good environmental steward and still maintain a good business.”
Nally’s outlook drew praise from Jack Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau’s executive vice president.
“Hearing your approach of making it business friendly and environmentally responsible … it’s good news,” he said. “We very much need and appreciate your approach.”
Nally, who was an assistant commissioner in Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management, has a lot of experience with farm-related issues. He used to work for Rose Acre Farms and Perdue Farms, helping the large companies maintain environmental compliance. He said working there has helped him realize that sometimes rules are not written as clearly and consistently as they should be.
“Often times what we write on paper looks and sounds so easy for us to understand and when you hand it to somebody and ask the reader to interpret, their interpretation can be entirely off base or different than what you want,” he said.
Grand Lake St. Marys
Early in his administration, Gov. John Kasich identified the problems with Grand Lake St. Marys as a priority and told the Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Department of Agriculture to work together on a plan to clean up the lake in western Ohio. The recreational lake has been chocked with a blue-green algae that feeds on phosphorus, some of which is from agricultural runoff. Nally praised the local farmers for their quick response to the problem, which has posed a health threat to those who touch the water.
“I’m ecstatic on how the local farming community has responded and stepped up to the plate. They recognized the issue and decided to tackle it head on,” he said. “They’re looking at doing comprehensive nutrient management planning, looking at where crops are and agronomically placing nutrients based on crop uptake needs, looking at the timing of when to apply manure and looking at weather patterns.”
The shallow lake, which was created in the 1840s through flooding to provide water for the canal system, has been reporting algae blooms since the 1920s, Nally said.
“This is not new. It didn’t happen overnight, and we can’t fix it overnight. There’s a tremendous amount of phosphorous banked in the sediment of that lake and it’s going to take us awhile to work through,” he said, noting that experts said it could take up to 24 years to fix the problem.
The Ohio EPA has 1,300 employees who help monitor the state’s air, water and land and has a budget of $189 million, which is mostly fee generated, Nally said. He said many people have the misperception that the agency does a lot of inspections. The reality is that the agency has the manpower to do just one or two inspections per permit cycle. That makes it important for individuals and businesses to “self monitor, self report and watch their own backyard and then we can come in and do a spot check,” he said.
Another hot issue for EPA is the increased interest in natural gas and oil drilling. Experts predict an additional 20,000 to 30,000 wells could be drilled in the state.
“We’ve been working with ODNR to make sure the wells aren’t overregulated and that we are ready to regulate as the boom hits Ohio,” he said.
Photo credit: Chip Nelson