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COLUMBUS — 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.
Supporters 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, a New Richmond Republican, said in a statement that he was disappointed the administration didn’t share any lingering problems it had with the measure while it was in the Senate.
“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 said.
The legislation was aimed at aligning the state’s goals with those of the Great Lakes Compact.
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.
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.
The Ohio Environment Council on Friday applauded the governor for doing what it said was “the right thing.”
“Maybe now big business will get down to business and work responsibly to help craft a balanced plan,” said Kristy Meyer, the group’s director of agricultural and clean water programs.
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