Portman pushes for action

By Tom Jackson, Sandusky Register
5 August 2014

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Monday he’s pushing federal officials to use the new algal bloom measure that Portman authored and President Barack Obama signed into law a few weeks ago.

Portman’s Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2014, co-authored with a Democratic Florida senator, Bill Nelson,  authorizes $20.5 million a year for five years for research into harmful algal blooms, such as the one that caused Toledo’s water crisis. Actual funding has dropped to $18 million, $12 million and $13 million in the last three years, but Portman said he’ll push for a $20 million annual appropriation.

The bill also requires a federal task force to develop a plan for combating harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes. The plan must then be submitted to Congress and the president within 18 months of the bill’s passage. 

Portman has explained that while his new law authorizes the funding, Congress still has to appropriate the money in separate legislation. 

Portman told reporters Monday in a telephone conference call that Toledo’s water woes, which made national news, have made it easier to push for the full $20 million, and Portman vowed to seek the funding in the various appropriations measures making their way through Congress.

"I do think the unfortunate events of the weekend will put attention on this issue," said Portman, who said he expects Ohio’s delegation will fight for the money.

Portman said the federal government has a role to play in not only researching the origins of harmful algal blooms but in helping communities use the best methods to remove algae toxins when they treat drinking water.

The federal government does things that local communities can’t match, such as photographing the blooms using satellites in orbit around the Earth, the senator observed.

"Local communities don’t have satellites," he said.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said Monday that he’s working to help Ohio, Michigan and Indiana obtain a federal grant to apply conservation practices to improve the quality of water in the western basin of Lake Erie. The grant application has advanced successfully to the next step, Brown said.