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Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 5/11/2014

COMMENTARY

Climate change isn’t a threat to Ohio — it’s real, now

So of course, state lawmakers want to wreck Ohio’s clean-energy standards

BY DAVID KUSHMA
BLADE EDITOR
Kushma Kushma
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More, and more intense, heat waves. More torrential downpours, followed by worse floods. Deeper droughts. Dirtier air, combined with longer pollen seasons. Abrupt late-spring freezes.

Toxic algae strangling Lake Erie and its fish. Reduced ice cover for all of the Great Lakes, adding to shoreline erosion and flooding. Greater, and more expensive, demands for air-conditioning.

These aren’t plagues of global climate change, aggravated by human activity, that might descend after we’re gone in 100 years. They’re real effects, occurring right now in Ohio, and we need to address them quickly and decisively.

A new federal report, the National Climate Assessment, identifies the extremes of climate disruption in Ohio, the rest of the Midwest, and the country. Despite its low-key tone, the study by expert climate scientists makes clear the threats these accelerating effects pose not only to Ohioans’ health, but also to our economic and environmental well-being and our public infrastructure.

The report notes that the Midwest warmed between 1980 and 2010 at three times the rate it did between 1900 and 2010. It concludes that climate conditions jeopardize Ohio’s agriculture, transportation, and forestry industries.

Apologists assert that warmer temperatures will lead to longer growing seasons in Ohio, and that farmers’ crops will consume carbon dioxide. That won’t help much, though, if their crops fail because of prolonged drought.

The report suggests that Ohio has developed enviable wind-power and solar resources, along with sound state standards for clean energy and energy efficiency. But Statehouse politicians are throwing away, rather than exploiting, these advantages.

“Climate change is happening here,” says Neil Waggoner, an organizing representative with the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club. “It’s not going to wait for us to figure out what we’re going to do.

“Every year is getting warmer,” he adds. “We need to have a discussion about the future of this state before these extreme weather events become the norm.”

Corn in this field near Woodville, Ohio, wilted because of a lack of water. Scientists predict worsening climate conditions will lead to prolonged droughts in Ohio. Corn in this field near Woodville, Ohio, wilted because of a lack of water. Scientists predict worsening climate conditions will lead to prolonged droughts in Ohio.
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Limiting the effects of climate change begins with reducing carbon emissions. The Obama Administration has made a good start, working to curb pollution from power plants and cars and trucks. But Congress continues to resist enacting a system for carbon pricing, the most effective step it could take.

State and local governments also need to do their part to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, Ohio is moving in the opposite direction.

Our state continues to rely far too much on coal. Ohio still generates more than two-thirds of its electricity from coal; nationwide, the figure is about 40 percent.

So of course, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate passed a bill last week that would gut the state’s effective standards for encouraging energy conservation and promoting renewable and advanced energy. That won’t make life better for Ohioans, but it will enable lawmakers to make the Koch brothers, Ohio utilities, and Big Coal happy.

The plan is to “pause” the clean-energy mandates while lawmakers “study” them — and then to enact far weaker, if any, standards. Dozens of major Ohio employers support the current standards. Ohio’s Roman Catholic bishops ask legislators “to prayerfully consider if it would be more prudent for the sake of environmental stewardship to maintain our current policies and not freeze those standards while the study takes place.”

But such appeals are having scant effect. If the House joins the Senate, Ohio is poised to become the first state to roll back its energy standards.

The bill gives its advocates’ game away when it scorns the need for “unrealistic, unreliable, and unaffordable energy sources, including energy efficiency programs mandated by the government, that continually drive up the costs of electricity for electric customers in Ohio.”

Why waste time reviewing the issue? Lawmakers have already made up their minds.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” Mr. Waggoner of the Sierra Club told me. “These standards are saving money and creating jobs, as well as being a tool for reducing carbon pollution and dealing with climate change. [The Senate bill] would absolutely destroy the standards.”

Does Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking re-election this year and may run for president in two years, have the fortitude to veto a bad bill that so many GOP-friendly constituencies want? We’re likely to find out soon.

As part of a strategy to combat climate change, many environmentalists challenge the use of hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and natural gas. Ohio won’t — and shouldn’t — ban fracking in the state’s resource-rich shales. Natural gas remains a cleaner alternative to coal.

But fracking can cause leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas. Preventing these and other potential ills — earthquakes, groundwater pollution — demands effective state regulation of fracking operations.

That in turn will require reasonable state taxation of oil and gas production, to help raise enough money to support such monitoring and to enable all Ohioans to share in the benefits of extracting the state’s nonrenewable resources.

Governor Kasich has taken some stabs, albeit inadequate, at these issues. Again, though, state lawmakers have made it clear they can’t be bothered with imposing new taxes and tough rules on their friends in fossil-fuel industries.

The new national climate-change report is denied by the habitual deniers. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and like-minded pols continue to rail against a phony “war on coal.” The report might have gained credence among partisan skeptics if it had warned that Obamacare and the Internal Revenue Service are conspiring to create climate change in Benghazi.

It’s easy to say there’s nothing we can or should do — that any efforts the United States can make to limit global warming will be offset by opposing policies in China and other industrializing countries. But if we aspire to continued world leadership, we need to demonstrate it by addressing a problem we have done so much to create.

This is no longer a matter of ethereal bromides about leaving our children and grandchildren a healthy, sustainable world. It’s a matter of immediate self-interest. It’s time we — and the politicians who supposedly represent us — act that way.

David Kushma is editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: dkushma@theblade.com or on Twitter @dkushma1



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