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Friday, August 01, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 6/7/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

COMMENTARY

Kasich caved in, rather than confronting energy interests

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Ohio Gov. John Kasich caved to dirty energy. He caved to big energy companies. He caved to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that lobbies for fossil-fuel interests determined to curtail renewable energy development.

Governor Kasich caved to members of ALEC, who double as lawmakers, in the General Assembly. He caved to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists whose money increasingly dictates legislative and election outcomes.

He caved to a nationally coordinated attack on Ohio’s clean-energy standards. He caved to fossil-fuel fans who are financially threatened by renewable-energy progress.

The governor sold out. He pretends that an energy bill, designed to protect Big Energy’s bottom line, is prudent. It isn’t.

Putting green power on pause, to reflect on the wisdom of promoting a clean-energy economy is causing Ohio to take a “giant leap backward,” said Steve Frenkel, the Midwest office director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. The state was leading the way to a cleaner, lower-cost, more-reliable 21st century electricity system, he said in a statement.

But placing green-energy advances on hold for study discourages investment in renewables. In policy-driven energy markets, uncertainty puts a damper on everything.

Investors are unwilling to risk capital on iffy support. States with full support and partnership for alternate energy will lure investment elsewhere.

The cost-saving momentum that was building in Ohio to reduce energy use through cheap, clean energy was derailed in a blatantly partisan move by the GOP-controlled legislature. And in a nod to utility muscle, straining to keep the status quo, Mr. Kasich chose political expediency over public welfare.

He caved on a commitment to clean up pollution. He must be held accountable.

In the 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Mr. Kasich portrays himself as forward-thinking and folksy. He fancies himself a 21st century visionary, putting the state ahead of the curve in job creation and innovation.

He projects a persona as just an ordinary guy, with humble roots, cutting through the bull that holds Ohio back. The re-election narrative of the former Lehman Bros. executive — and presidential aspirant — depicts a plainspoken Mr. Kasich as one of us, dedicated to advancing Ohio’s best interests.

But his support of Senate Bill 310, a bill to delay and dilute the state’s renewable energy law, punctures all that. It says the governor switched his allegiance to utility and fossil-fuel interests.

He caved to renewable energy opponents, because they have money and power to influence campaigns. Instead of siding with average Ohioans, he sided with FirstEnergy, American Electric Power, and other coal- and natural gas-powered utilities.

He could have blocked an orchestrated scheme to roll back the state’s renewable-energy and energy-efficiency laws. He didn’t.

Mr. Kasich allowed Ohio to become the first state in the nation to reverse standards meant to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, improve the environment, and cut costs to utility consumers.

“The benefits and cost-effectiveness of Ohio’s clean energy standards are well documented by numerous independent analyses,” Mr. Frenkel said.

“By freezing Ohio’s clean energy standards,” he added, “the governor is putting Ohio’s economy, environment, and public health at risk by clinging to the state’s overdependence on fossil fuels.”

The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, which jointly lobbied to retain the state’s renewable energy and efficiency standards with the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, predicted that the inevitable outcome of SB 310 will be higher electricity costs for businesses and residential customers.

In a statement, the association said: “There are precious few tools for reducing the electric bills of Ohio’s four million residential electricity customers and countless large, medium, and small businesses. One of those bill-reducing tools is energy efficiency.”

But Mr. Kasich opted for retreat and weakened standards. There’s no guarantee Ohio will aggressively resume efforts to reduce customers’ electric bills and clean up carbon pollution after the two-year freeze.

The Republican governor who seeks re-election is responsible. Mr. Kasich caved when he should have confronted the special interests that are trying to stop the clock in Ohio.

He’s betting Ohioans won’t notice. He compromised our future for his job security. The word is out.

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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