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Opinions divided on need for phosphorus regulation

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Fishing, boating and swimming are popular summer pastimes in Indiana, but increasingly, Hoosiers looking for a relaxing weekend at the lake are being warned to avoid the water altogether due to pollution.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that in 2010, phosphorus was the cause of impairment for 7,023 acres of Indiana’s lakes, reservoirs and ponds. In excess, the nutrient can cause thick, foul-smelling mats of algae called algal blooms.

phosphorus In this photo provided by Jill Hoffman of Clear Choices Clean Lakes, an algal bloom forms a thick mat next to the Lake Tippecanoe seawall. (Photo courtesy Lyn Crighton, Tippecanoe Watershed Foundation )

Phosphorus can come from a variety of sources, including fertilizers, and some environmentalists say that regulating the use of phosphorus-fertilizers will reduce its presence in waters. But so far, efforts to institute laws restricting the use of phosphorus have generated little support.

Local concerns

In the far northeastern corner of the state, Steuben County is home to 101 lakes, including Lake James, the third largest lake in the state, and Clear Lake. The Clear Lake Town Council and the County Commissioners of Steuben each adopted ordinances in 2007 restricting the use of phosphorus-fertilizers (p-fertilizers) in an effort to control algal blooms. The Steuben commissioners requested a public hearing on the ordinances with the Office of the Indiana State Chemist. The ordinances made it a Class C infraction to apply p-fertilizers, but allowed for agricultural use and application to vegetable and flower gardens, trees and shrubs, and newly planted lawns.

After the public hearing in 2009, the state chemist ruled that residents had been unable to prove that “special circumstances” existed that would justify the ordinances. The chemist’s office also wrote that Steuben County and Clear Lake had not listed local enforcement of the ordinances as a high priority, and “no enforcement strategy was presented to effect an ordinance.”

For people like Rep. Dick Dodge, R-Pleasant Lake, the ruling was a frustrating setback. Dodge lives about 20 miles south of Clear Lake and five miles south of the Steuben County seat of Angola. He introduced legislation earlier this year that would create a state law restricting phosphorus, similar to the Clear Lake ordinance. House Bill 1425 stalled in the Committee on Natural Resources without a hearing. Dodge said he thinks the bill failed due to opposition from lawn care and agriculture lobbyists, but also because of resistance from the state chemist’s office.

“The enforcement of any violation of the ban would be enforced by the state chemist’s office,” he said. “The thing that I see is they just don’t want to take on that additional responsibility, which they’d be required to do under the legislation.”

dodge Dodge

Robert D. Waltz, state chemist & seed commissioner, said in an email to Indiana Lawyer that “HB 1425 did not pose any enforcement or registration or reporting responsibilities for this Office.”

Waltz was the person who signed the letter that nullified Steuben County’s local ordinances.

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, co-authored HB 1425 with Dodge. He said Indiana needs to do more to reduce phosphorus in the state’s waters. Even though phosphorus can come from a variety of sources, Dvorak said, “I think it’s generally acknowledged that phosphorus is something we can take steps to address. One obvious way is to go after something as simple as fertilizer.”

Other states

Only 12 states have laws restricting the use of p-fertilizer, and in some, those laws are not statewide.

In Michigan, lawmakers adopted legislation calling for statewide restrictions of p-fertilizers based on the apparent successes of a similar ordinance in the city of Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor began restricting p-fertilizer use in 2007. Since then, research supported by the city and performed by University of Michigan ecologist John Lehman and his graduate students has shown measurable reductions in phosphorus in the Huron River in the two years following the ordinance as compared to 2003 through 2005.

The city of Ann Arbor reports on its website that while the research cannot say with certainty whether the ordinance alone caused a decrease in phosphorus levels, the reductions averaged 28 percent in 2008 and 17 percent in 2009. Contributing factors may include less construction activity in the Ann Arbor area, storm water infrastructure improvements and greater environmental awareness by residents.

dvorak Dvorak

Michigan’s new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2012, will prohibit the application of p-fertilizers to lawns unless a new lawn is being established or a soil test indicates a phosphorus deficiency. The new law also regulates the application of lawn fertilizer near surface waters and prohibits its application on frozen ground or water-saturated ground.

Educational efforts

Justin Schneider, an attorney with Indiana Farm Bureau, said that the bureau supports educational efforts regarding phosphorus. He said the bureau supported the educational component of HB 1425, but it had expected to see greater efforts to inform the public about p-fertilizers by now.

“The first thing is always education, and if education doesn’t work, then you try other alternatives,” he said.

Marija Watson, water resources project manager for the Indiana Wildlife Federation, said that the IWF has held six educational workshops around the state this year regarding p-fertilizers. She said groups like Clear Choices Clean Water and Indiana Clean Lakes Foundation were also working hard to inform Hoosiers about how their use of p-fertilizers can affect waterways.

Todd Janzen, a partner with Plews Shadley Racher & Braun, has represented agricultural organizations and owner/operators of the large livestock farms known as confined feeding operations. Runoff from such farms includes phosphorus, a component of animal manure.

Janzen said that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Water Pollution Control Board has instituted new soil-testing guidelines for farmers, effective July 1, 2012. He explained that traditionally, farmers have put manure on their fields based on the predicted nitrogen needs of upcoming crops. Nitrogen is absorbed more quickly, but phosphorus lingers in the soil longer, so next July, farmers will begin sampling for phosphorus content before applying fertilizer.

“Many of the large farms have already been limiting how much phosphorus they put on land, so they’re sort of ahead of the curve,” he said. “If agriculture was worried about phosphorus limitations, they’re coming, whether they’re worried about them or not.”

Federal regulation

Dvorak said Indiana historically has been remiss in its enforcement of policies designed to curb water pollution.

“I think a lot of people are of the opinion that we’re going to wait until the feds make us do something about it,” he said. But the authority of the EPA is limited – particularly after a recent decision in the California courts.

janzen Janzen

The case’s debate concerned the enforceability of the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 40, Part 122, Section 23, which explains the regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

In National Pork Producers, et al. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated portions of the EPA’s 2008 regulations that obligated large livestock producers to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. The court also struck the 2008 imposition of liability upon CAFOs for failing to apply for a permit – regardless of whether they discharged pollutants to federally regulated waters.

The court concluded that those rules exceeded the EPA’s permissible authority under the federal Clean Water Act.

Next steps

Dodge said he’s introducing his p-fertilizer bill again in 2012.

“And the legislation does not prevent people from using it, in fact, when you’re starting a new lawn, that phosphorus is kind of a necessity in getting a new lawn growing,” he said. “If someone feels they need it, they’re required to do a soil test to determine the fact that there’s a need to use phosphorus, then that would be permitted.

“If it’s used properly, it’s not really a problem. But if it’s applied at the wrong time, and maybe the ground cannot properly absorb it, then it runs off into the water stream.”•
 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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