Thursday, May 22, 2014

HB 490: 5th Hearing, Opponent & Interested Party

Statehouse News Agriculture and Natural Resources Commmittee
HB 490:   5th Hearing, Opponent & Interested Party
Tony Seegers of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation testified as an interested party. He said that while the bill would transfer manure management programs from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, there is a recognition that existing manure management programs are working.  He said OFB likes that the bill maintains an affirmative defense for farmers regarding their nutrient management plans, adding that regulatory consistency is important for anyone engaging in business operations.  Mr. Seegers added that the bill should generate quicker and tougher enforcement against bad actors.
"Coupled with SB150's new 'fertilizer applicator certification' to be administered by ODA, HB490 will consolidate the oversight of nutrients under one agency," he said. "This should better serve farmers by giving them a single point of contact regarding the management of nutrients and, with ODA's enforcement powers, HB490 should build on SB150 to also better protect Ohio's water quality."

Rep. Boose raised concerns about the potential for non-permitted farms being subject only to voluntary compliance.  Mr. Seegers said ODA will be able to work with farmers on key issues, but said some operators who might have significant pollution issues in the past won't be eligible for voluntary compliance programs.

Harold Neuenschwander of the Holmes County Soil & Water Conservation District testified as an interested party on behalf of Ohio Federation of Soil & Water Conservation Districts.  His members are heavily involved in nutrient management programs, and questioned why the transfer from ODNR to ODA is necessary, he said. ODNR has conducted the operations since the 1970s, and there haven't been questions about the agency's effectiveness.  Mr. Neuenschwander said if there are concerns about the agency not having certain tools it needs to address those who don't comply, the group feels minor amendments can be added to minimize those issues.  He also noted that a transfer will force local SWCDs to develop a new memorandum of understanding with ODA regarding enforcement issues, and said questions will arise regarding funding streams.  The witness told Rep. Boose the federation could offer a series of suggestions about how it could become more comfortable with the bill.

Chair Hall said it was uncertain whether the panel would consider the proposal next week, but would accept amendments and then develop a substitute at hearings in the future.  "We're almost there on some of these (issues)," he said. "I'm taking my time because there's a lot of stuff in here.

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