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DeWine Administration Touts H2Ohio, Other Natural Resources Budget Provisions

Source: The Hannah Report

While the General Assembly didn’t include all his ideas in the budget to create the H2Ohio program, Gov. Mike DeWine praised lawmakers for including $172 million -- and possibly more -- in the H2Ohio Fund over the biennium in HB166.

“To tell you how important I think it is, I’m spending a half day tomorrow with my team, but also with experts where we’ll talk about that and map out a precise strategy,” DeWine told reporters during a Statehouse press conference, saying he’s already been consistently working with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director (ODNR) Director Mary Mertz, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Director Laurie Stevenson and Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODAg) Director Dorothy Pelanda on how water quality should be addressed.

“We’ve made some progress. We know for example that we’re going to move forward with regard to the creation of more wetlands. We know that works,” DeWine said. “With the funding that’s now available, we’re going to sit down map out exactly what we’re going to do. I look forward to having more public discussions about this in the next few weeks.”

In addition to the $172 million that will go into the H2Ohio Fund from the FY19 General Revenue Fund (GRF) surplus, the budget bill also requires 50 percent of surplus revenue existing on June 30, 2021 to be transferred to the H2Ohio Fund. The other 50 percent would go to the Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund. All surplus revenue existing on June 30, 2020 must remain in the GRF, according to HB166.

“Water is vital, yet communities throughout the state regularly face challenges such as algae blooms, failing septic tanks, nutrient pollution and threats of lead contamination,” the governor’s office said. “Gov. DeWine is committed to partnering with industry leaders and universities to make the best use of research and emerging technology to find solutions while ensuring accountability through transparent metrics and goals.”

In a separate news release on the budget, ODNR expanded on its plans to create wetlands.

“ODNR’s H2Ohio program funding will be used to complete important coastal and interior wetland projects that will help filter water flowing into Lake Erie and other waterways throughout Ohio. In addition to the water quality benefits, these wetland areas will also provide new habitats, further protecting and promoting Ohio’s plant and wildlife populations,” ODNR said.

“We’re excited for all the possibilities created by this budget to strengthen and improve the future of Ohio’s invaluable natural resources,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “This is a great opportunity to serve our constituents, and I’m grateful to Governor DeWine and Ohio’s elected representatives for their vote of confidence in this agency.”

The administration also praised the inclusion of an additional $25 million for Ohio State Parks to expand capacity, upgrade utilities and safety measures, and to renovate cabins, lodges, campgrounds and trails. This funding is also dedicated to natural areas and preserves to fight harmful invasive species and to increase public outreach and activities. The funding will also allow nature centers, pools, campground offices and stores to operate for extended hours and a longer season.

The administration also noted the expansion of the ODNR Oil and Gas Program, with appropriations increasing to more than $50 million. “The increased funding will enable significant progress on plugging orphan wells, with a goal of fixing hundreds of wells during the biennium.”

ODNR said the reestablishment of the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves is a “significant step forward” in protecting Ohio’s natural resources.

“The division holds more than 30,000 acres of land and scenic rivers which protect rare species of plants and animals as well as preserving some of the best remaining examples of Ohio’s ecological history,” ODNR said. “In addition to its preserves, the division also does significant work controlling invasive species. With $4.5 million in additional funding, the division will be able to expand its efforts to control invasive species, protect scenic rivers, perform educational outreach and upgrade infrastructure to enable Ohioans to experience these special areas."

ODNR also said that “modest fee increases” included in the budget will enable the ODNR Division of Wildlife to improve fish hatcheries, conserve wildlife habitats, improve shooting ranges and hire additional wildlife officers, ensuring that each county has a dedicated officer.

ODNR said the increased appropriation authority of $47 million in HB166 “will allow ODNR to acquire additional land, such as the AEP ReCreation property in Eastern Ohio. This will give ODNR flexibility to capitalize on important opportunities to offer even more outdoor recreational opportunities to Ohioans.”

The budget also includes the following provisions:

  • Appropriates nearly $42 million over the biennium to the Ohio EPA to target diesel emissions. These dollars will replace aging diesel school and transit buses, heavy-duty trucks and cargo handling equipment, and to repower diesel engines in tugboats and locomotives. The funds also support electric vehicle charging infrastructure, along with other emerging technologies.
  • Restores Mentor Marsh, which is Ohio’s first nature preserve. An investment of $1 million for the Ohio EPA’s continued efforts will help restore the marsh, and recent settlement of more than $10 million, when received, will also be appropriated through the Controlling Board to bolster ongoing restoration efforts, according to the administration.
  • Invests $20 million per year in the ODAg Soil and Water Phosphorous Program to assist in reducing total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus in the Western Lake Erie Basin.
  • Partners with local soil and water conservation districts with increased appropriations of $5 million to provide one-to-one matching funds with local dollars for the first time in 12 years.
  • Invests nearly $500,000 in FY20 into ODNR programs for dam safety, water management and floodplain management.
  • Provides that nature or ecosystem does not have standing to participate or bring an action in a court of common pleas. Also, a person cannot bring an action on behalf of nature or an ecosystem. The language seeks to preempt charter amendments such as the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR) that recently passed in Toledo. That local law has already been blocked in court, and Attorney General Dave Yost has argued it already conflicted with other federal and state laws. 

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