Perception isn’t reality, reality is

Perhaps you have heard that a certain fellow named LeBron James has decided to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers basketballing organization. To take his talents to the North Coast, if you will.

Now, I had no plans to write about this episode, if for no other reason than I think my experience has been so very ordinary and in line with that of many Northeast Ohioans. I was ecstatic when the Cavs won the draft lottery in 2003 and kept LeBron here, and I was a huge fan throughout his seven years in the wine and gold. When he left for Miami in 2010, I was dejected and pissed. I openly cheered against him and found the Heat’s loss in the 2011 NBA Finals extremely cathartic. He had failed on the biggest stage, just like he couldn’t single handedly will a mediocre Cavs team to beat the best franchise of the last 15 years in the 2007 Finals. Suddenly all of those things that people said about him not performing in the clutch, which I vociferously denied for seven years, were instantly true. It was petty, and I reveled in it.

I thought I had moved beyond that crap after that series, but a certain level of resentment remained. I don’t know why. I started to get my hopes up last summer, when all of the local talking heads started speculating that LeBron could return this summer, though I was certain it would never happen. I mostly wanted the Heat to lose the Finals this year to see what might happen, and I was overjoyed when he announced he was coming back to Cleveland last week. I had slowly come to realize that he did what was best for him in 2010, both personally and professionally, and I couldn’t really fault him for that.

I also always knew that LeBron had a clear, intimate connection to this region, something which I’ve always respected. And he was probably the first person I’ve ever seen to bring national light to the strange, unproductive tension that simmers just below the surface between Cleveland and Akron. It’s an issue that I have become acutely aware of in my professional life over the past year. At this point, I just want to put all of this nonsense behind me and move on with my life.

So, like I said, my experience was completely unremarkable and not worth commenting upon. I also found much of the national media narrative as dull as it was predictable. LeBron acted as the bigger man to forgive and take back his jilted former lover. His return to this strange little corner of the universe that he inexplicably loves will bring a little light and validation into our otherwise dreary, unremarkable lives. Yawn.

What does irritate me are the posts from locals who attempt to present themselves as somehow above the fray, who seem to view this spectacle like an anthropologist observing some “primitive” tribe, confused as to how sports can actually matter to people. Then there are those who have tried to turn this story into a Christmas tree, hanging whatever their pet issue or cause may be on it like one more tacky ornament your mom bought at the Hallmark store in 1993.

The latest version of this came from an unexpected source, Jeopardy! champion and Cleveland-area transplant Arthur Chu, who has picked up on the argument that life in Cleveland is difficult, because we’re pessimists. As he writes at The Daily Beast,

It’s the reason well-meaning Cleveland PR reps can’t win when they try to throw up “positive messages” about the growing Cleveland tech market or the beautiful Metroparks or the local music scene against the image of Cleveland as one big decaying slum—that image is coming from Clevelanders.

Unsuprisingly, Richie Piiparinen, perhaps the most vocal advocate of this theory, praised the piece. Now, I generally have nothing against Arthur or Richie; both of them are obviously intelligent, thoughtful people (Arthur’s winning streak would suggest he’s a hell of a lot smarter than me), and I read their work with interest. But I take great umbrage with this line of reasoning. Richie had previously outlined it in a guest column for The Plain Dealer, writing

Cleveland’s negativity is a challenge to the city’s future.

…For Cleveland to change, it needs a critical mass of people who aren’t blinded by the city’s past failures. Whether they are newcomers, like our Texas friend, or folks who are pulled in by the prospects of a Rust Belt revitalization, the effects are the same: new voices and ideas that will help create a new reality.

…As a born and bred Rust Belter, you tend to get used to the narrative of decline. It’s oral tradition. The problem with that is when the social norm is to accept decline as fate, there’s less agency to help change your city’s destiny.

At best, this argument is a gross oversimplification of the real issues that we face as a region. Not to mention that it seems to suffer from some real analytical issues. If we are to assume that pessimism is the independent variable in this equation, and it leads to neglect, abandonment, and poverty, then we have to conclude that Cleveland’s pessimism is a completely exogenous variable; that is, we have to pretend it exists in a vacuum. Am I honestly supposed to believe that negative outlook is completely distinct from decades of population loss, shuttered factories, rising unemployment, a decade-long foreclosure crisis, and – yes – the added fact that our sports teams have endured 50 years of almost comical futility? It’s fallacious to argue that A lead to B, when we know that A has been inherently shaped by B.

At worst, this argument amounts to (as Arthur even admitted in his piece) victim blaming. It’s tantamount to telling a child growing up at East 79th & Grand Avenue, where the poverty rate is 79.1%, that all she needs to do is smile harder, and she can overcome her debilitating circumstances. Ignore the fact that poverty is expensive, that it lowers your IQ, that it increases your risk of suffering a chronic illness, that economic mobility has evaporated in the US and is nearly nonexistent in Cleveland. Just keep on the sunny side of life.

poverty e 79th & woodland

More than half of Cleveland’s children live in poverty. In this census block, located near East 79th & Woodland, an astonishing 87.1% of all households live below the poverty level (courtesy of The New York Times).

But it’s gauche to point out these problems in Cleveland. LeBron’s decision and the earlier selection of the city for the 2016 RNC prove that Cleveland is undergoing something of a renaissance. New businesses are opening; the city is getting positive press; certain neighborhoods are in-demand, driving up rental prices; we’re seeing an influx in younger, educated residents.

These positive developments have seemingly given rise to a new trend in Cleveland – the shameless boostering. There has been a clear shift in the past decade away from decrying the real and perceived issues in the region to relentlessly celebrating everything that is new and, therefore, good.

In a lot of ways, this trend isn’t entirely new; it’s actually an offshoot of our very real inferiority complex. The notion seems to be that we need to act as cheerleaders for every new project, idea, or business that pops up, no matter how impractical or pointless it appears. And don’t dare get caught questioning the practicality or utility of any of these projects; if you do, you’re the real problem.

Cleveland apparently exists in some strange metaphysical ecosystem where perception is reality. The inferiority complex is so deeply ingrained in our DNA that people are convinced that confronting our issues is more dangerous than ignoring them. The problem isn’t that we have actual problems, but that people always talk about them.

We’re told, time and time again, to stop bringing up our problems, because the real issue is that “the city is suffering from a marketing and recruitment strategy letdown.” I guess that this region works on the theory of quantum entanglement: if you observe a problem, it automatically becomes manifest.

But the idea that in order to truly love a city, you must never criticize it is ridiculous. That’s not love; that’s some childish infatuation. The people who espouse this argument don’t live in the real Cleveland. No, these boosters only focus on the part of Cleveland in which they reside or travel. Their infatuation with this tiny sliver of Cleveland amounts to little more than narcissism. It provides people with the ability to delude themselves into thinking they are single-handedly saving Cleveland every time they visit Market Garden or Fahrenheit.

I love microbreweries and food trucks as much as the next guy, but pretending that piling more of these into the confines of Ohio City and Detroit Shoreway will cure what ails us is preposterous. Cleveland is 77.7 square miles in area, not just the 4-5 square miles certain people frequent.

All of this is not to say that there aren’t good projects going on in Cleveland. There are. These include the Uptown development in University Circle, the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 initiative, and the new proposal to redevelop East 55th around St. Clair/Superior. And I am cautiously optimistic that these recent positive trends – yes, including LeBron’s return – may help add some additional momentum to the city’s slow rebirth. But they still represent a drop in a much larger bucket, and we have a lot of ground left to cover.

Unfortunately, too many Clevelanders seem to have convinced themselves that we can save this city by dancing around on the margins. But that’s never going to work. When you’re dealing with problems this big, you need systemic change. The first step in that process is to acknowledge that the problems exist in the first place, which is exactly what we’re not doing. The world is changing quickly; if you don’t keep moving, you’re bound to fall behind. But it’s even worse to stand still while continually reassuring yourself that you’re keeping pace.

In Cleveland, we’re told not to rock the boat, for you might get wet. Well, the boat has been sinking for more than 5 decades at this point. We can either get a little wet now, or we can all drown later.

Burn on, big river

1952 Cuyahoga River fire
1952 cuyahoga river fire

The 1952 Cuyahoga River fire, a much more serious event, has historically been confused for the 1969 fire after Time Magazine used this image to bring attention to the nation’s environmental issues. In reality, the 1969 fire was a relative nonevent, and no one even had a chance to take a picture of it (courtesy of Teaching Cleveland).

Forty five years ago today, the Cuyahoga River caught fire (for the 13th time). While this was nowhere near the largest or most substantial of those dozen fires, it did prove to be the most significant historically. The attention the fire gained combined with other significant environmental disasters – including the 1969 San Bernandino oil spill – to help catalyze action. The 1969 fire contributed directly to the passing of landmark environmental legislation, including the 1972 Clean Water Act and the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. Today, the Cuyahoga River has largely recovered from the dark days before 1969. While it may not be pristine, it’s also not an open dump for every sort of toxic and organic effluent you can imagine. They used to say that you could tell what color paint Sherwin-Williams was producing by looking at the river. Now, the fish are back, the Scranton Flats Towpath is about to open, and members of the Cleveland Rowing Foundation can be seen passing up and down the bends of the crooked river on a daily basis. In some ways, we should all be thankful for that 1969 fire. It came at the right time to produce real, positive change. But, fortunately, these days, the Big River burns on only in our memories.

Here’s the editorial on carbon emissions the PD should have written

coal plant carbon emissions

So The Plain Dealer is at it, once again, on climate change and carbon regulations. As I documented last June, when President Obama announced his plan to use his executive authority to curb power plant carbon emissions, the PD has a history of drafting inaccurate, lazy editorials on this subject. Surprise surprise, they’ve struck once more.

On Saturday, the paper posted a piece titled “The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written.” Needless to say, the editorial rehashed the same tired, easily refuted, arguments that the EPA’s proposed rule on power plant carbon emissions will kill jobs, raise electricity costs, and drive investments out of Ohio.

The PD seems to hold some impressively incongruous views on climate change. They can call for action on the issue, writing that inaction would force us to “watch some of our most beloved and vital cities be eaten away like sand castles on the beach” and decry SB 310 as “obnoxious” and “an unacceptable bill,” all while criticizing anyone who tries to actually tackle the challenge as a radical. I imagine any other person might find it difficult to stand up straight given the vertigo that holding such contrary views would surely produce.

I took the liberty of rewriting the piece for the editorial board to make it more accurate and intellectually honest. Since that link expires at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 10 (the only draw back of shrturl), below you will find the original text of the piece, overlain with my changes. The original text that I’ve deleted is crossed out, and my additions are in red. Feel free to use any of these, PD editors.

The EPA’s overly ambitious carbon-reduction mandate is unacceptable as written: editorial

The EPA’s proposed carbon rule is an overdue step to tackle climate change: editorial

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a major step this week toward battling climate change by announcing a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants 30 percent nationally by 2030.

It’s an ambitious goal designed to reduce the country’s reliance on coal, boost the use of natural gas and renewable energy, improve plant efficiency and shrink consumer demand through conservation.

Climate change already poses serious risks of catastrophic ocean-level rises and other impacts both globally and domestically, ranging from of catastrophic sea level rise, to crushing heatwaves, to deadly floods. Policy actions to reduce the manmade carbon emissions causing global warming are long carbon emissions known to contribute to global warming are overdue. More than 97 percent of climate scientists and every major national academy of science agrees on this point.

Ohio needs to do more — far more — than it’s doing now to expand its energy portfolio, encourage energy conservation, support energy innovation and renewable-energy jobs and clean its air. The current legislative backsliding in Columbus on renewable-energy and energy-efficiency requirements is embarrassing and terribly shortsighted.

Nonetheless, the proposed EPA carbon rule as written is unacceptable.

It raises more unanswered questions and unpredictable scenarios than there are electrons on the grid. The lack of specifics about potential impacts on coal-reliant states such as Ohio is especially worrisome — as are the short time lines and large reductions involved. The obvious politics of the effort, driven by the White House, leaves it vulnerable to destructive political demagoguery in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible elimination by the next occupant of the White House.

At a minimum, the rule needs to be drastically revised before it’s finalized, to reduce the size of the mandate, extend the timeline and add safeguards to prevent devastating utility-bill increases in states with the greatest reliance on coal power.

Given these facts, the EPA’s proposed carbon regulations constitute an important, if ultimately inadequate, step to tackle the preeminent policy issue of our times.

The rule, as written, is highly flexible and takes into account the different energy mixes in each state. It provides significantly more leeway for states that rely heavily on coal for electricity production, like Ohio. The plan is part of President Obama’s attempt to tackle climate change before leaving office in January 2017, a commitment he made in his 2008 convention speech.

It would obviously be preferable for Congress to act on this issue by passing a national cap on carbon emissions, much like the 2009 cap and trade proposal that passed the House but floundered in the Senate. But, due largely to the rampant rise of the radical, climate change denying wing of the Republican Party, such talk is anathema on Capitol Hill.

The rule, which seeks to meet President Obama’s 2009 Copenhagen commitment to cut carbon emissions, puts the United States on the right path. Moreover, it has already begun to pay dividends at the international level, as China has committed to implement a national carbon cap by 2016. The rule may help foster the good will needed to secure a binding global agreement next fall in Paris.

The EPA says it In crafting the rule, the EPA applied a national formula to each state’s individual power profile to set target emission rates for “carbon intensity,” defined as the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity generated by all types of fuel, be it fossil, nuclear or renewable. Each state can come up with its own plan for meeting the mandate.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis says Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030 is The proposed rule sets Ohio’s 28 percent reduction goal by 2030, less than that of 31 other states. West Virginia and Kentucky, which is are even more coal-reliant than Ohio, has a target rate of 20 percent have targets of 20 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

Steve Frenkel, Midwest director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, says Ohio has already begun to chip away at its reliance on coal, and that meeting the mandate is not only doable but affordable because it will create a more efficient and sustainable energy system less subject to the price volatility of coal.

“It requires investment, there’s no question,” he said, “but we think that investment will pay dividends.”

Just how much investment remains to be seen, but it most surely will be substantial. He’s right. The investment may be substantial, but it will put Ohio on a path for more sustainable growth. Ohio’s net electricity generation in 2012, according to the federal Energy Information Agency, was nearly 130 million megawatt-hours. With nearly 70 percent of Ohio’s generation attributable The state currently gets 65 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants, so a 28 percent reduction in the carbon emission rate, as foreseen in the EPA rule, would be equivalent to conserving, producing more efficiently or finding cleaner power sources for about 25 million megawatt-hours of electrical generation by 2030.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy likened any short-term national rate increase as a result of the mandate to the price of a gallon of milk per month, and said that by 2030, average rates should be down 8 percent.

That’s unlikely to be the case in Ohio. Moreover, it seems irresponsible to make such assertions when there are so many moving parts to take into consideration, and when state plans are at least two years from being finalized.

Fortunately, Ohio can cut its carbon emissions while lowering electric prices and creating jobs. From 2009-2012, Ohio reduced its electricity consumption by more than 5 million megawatt hours, even as the state created jobs, and energy efficiency lowered electric bills by 1.4%. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the proposed rules could be a boon for the state. The proposal has the potential to created 8,600 new jobs and cut the average household’s monthly electric bill by $6.80.

EPA will be soliciting more input on its draft plan over the next three months with all states required to submit complete or initial plans by June 30, 2016. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold. Among the strategies that could be employed is a multistate market that allows pollution credits to be bought and sold.

Climate change is a real concern that could have serious impacts, including in the Great Lakes region, whether by producing a larger number of violent storms that overload sewers and flood basements, contributing to the formation of dead zones in Lake Erie or nurturing the growth of toxic algal blooms.

It’s about time Ohio got serious about addressing carbon emissions and repositioned the state for the future energy and energy-innovation marketplace. The question is whether the EPA rule is the best or proper way to achieve those goals. If Ohio’s economy tanks because its electricity costs are three times those of Pennsylvania, Michigan or New York, there will be major economic and, likely, health impacts.

At a minimum, the rule should be significantly altered before it is finalized to lower the targets and protect against burdensome rate hikes in coal-reliant states.

All the evidence suggests it is. While opponents in the coal industry will claim that this plan will doom the economy and drive up energy costs, we’d be wise to ignore their claims. They have been wrong before – time after time – and they will be wrong yet again. This rule is an excellent first step in the right direction, but we must do more to ensure that we can prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Tackling this crisis is an imperative to protect not just to ourselves, but to the generations to come.

Ohio already has a compliance plan for the EPA’s carbon rules. It’s called SB 221.

epa carbon reduction goals by state
epa carbon reduction goals by state

Carbon reduction goals by state under the EPA’s proposed rule (courtesy of Business Insider).

As you’ve no doubt heard, President Obama took the most serious executive action in American history to tackle climate change on Monday. The US EPA unveiled its long-anticipated rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. The rule calls for a 30% reduction in carbon intensity within the electric power sector by 2030. The rule is extremely complex and lengthy (645 pages, to be exact), but the details are starting to emerge.

Like the Affordable Care Act, the EPA’s proposed rule is highly flexible and will be implemented at the state level. Cognizant that states have different fuel makeups within the electric sector, the EPA set carbon reduction targets for each state, ranging from just 10.6% in North Dakota to 71.8% in Washington. The rule also provides states with tremendous flexibility in how they can reduce carbon emissions, listing a bevy of different options, including:

  1. Improving fossil fuel plant efficiency
  2. Switching from coal to natural gas for electric generation
  3. Ramping up electricity production from renewable energy
  4. Investing in end user energy efficiency
  5. Adopting a cap-and-trade system or join an existing program, like the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)

This rule is far from being finalized. It still needs to go through a public comment period, an implementation phase, and – no doubt – a lengthy battle in the courts. That said, it is already starting to reap potential dividends. Yesterday, Chinese officials announced that they may include a carbon cap in its next Five Year Plan, which begins in 2016. The Chinese have are already experimenting with pilot cap and trade systems in seven cities, though the experiment has not been a rousing success.

How will this rule affect Ohio?

Understanding that it will be more difficult for some states – namely, the most coal-dependent ones – to reduce their electric power emissions, the EPA set more lenient emissions reductions standards for these states. Ohio, which gets 65% of its electricity from coal and emits more CO2 than all but three other states, is required to reduce its carbon emissions from 1,850 tons per megawatt (MW) of energy to 1,338 tons per MW (see page 30 of PDF) by 2030. That represents a 27.7% reduction, slightly under the overall 30% standard nationwide.

Predictably, lawmakers in Columbus have already started their posturing over the issue. More than a week before EPA even announced the rule, a bipartisan group of coal boosters in the Statehouse introduced House Bill 506, which requires the Ohio EPA to establish rules that dictate how the state will implement the regulation. The bill, which passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, is intended to shield Ohio’s coal industry. According to Gongwer (subscription required):

[Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire] said the bill looks to continue Ohio’s energy supply portfolio that relies heavily on coal-fired generation. He said the industry has a significant impact in his district, and the use of coal is vital to the region’s economic security….

[Rep. Andy Thompson (R-Marietta)] said he is looking to make sure Ohio continues to have affordable, reliable power supplies based on reasonable policies. He said the bill allows the state agency to consider each power generating unit, and how changes would impact local communities. If done properly, the state policy could prevent the retirement of older coal-fired plants.

Mr. Cera said a rush to meet federal requirements could be detrimental to families by increasing energy costs and eliminating jobs. He said further reduction of coal-fired power facilities could bring the state and region closer to having inadequate power supplies. Mr. Cera added that while technology is advancing, additional time may be needed to get enhanced controls in place.

Mr. Thompson told Rep. Tony Burkley (R-Paulding) there is a place for a mix of power sources, but said it is essential that the state has a baseload source that is available at all times.

“Coal is there,” he said. “Coal is on site. There is no delay.”

Craig Butler, the Director of the Ohio EPA, who would be tasked with developing the compliance plan, has decried the proposed regulations as “unnecessary federal mandates.” He has also sworn to “preserve as much existing coal-fired electric generation” as possible.

Because nothing makes sense any more, FirstEnergy has actually downplayed the rule and made it seem like it’s happy to comply. CEO Tony Alexander, who last made news for bashing the same EPA over its nonexistent “war on coal,” told the New York Times he supports cap and trade, saying,

By trading on carbon credits, we’ll be able to achieve significantly more cuts at a lower cost. The broader the options, the better off we’re going to be.

VP Ray Evans even told the AP that the company was “generally pleased by the overall direction of the federal plan.”

Now, under normal circumstances, if FirstEnergy approved of an environmental regulation and felt it could comply with it easily, I’d be freaking out over how lax the rule was. And I do have some concerns about the plan, namely the decision to make the baseline year 2005, which is when carbon emissions reached their peak in the US. I would be much happier with 2012 as the baseline, as emissions fell 16% during that seven-year span. This would make the rule far more ambitious and beneficial. As it currently stands, the rule would only lead to a 17% reduction from 2012 emission levels, not the 30% headline number we are all seeing (which is relative to 2005).**

But I digress. What I really want to emphasize here that the executives at FirstEnergy are apparently more progressive on environmental regulations than the head of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Let that one sink in for a minute.

SB 221 and the carbon rule

So how should Ohio go about meeting this new rule? What should the state’s compliance plan look like? Well, it’s first important to note that, in addition to the 2030 goal, the EPA’s rule also includes an interim reduction target for states to achieve by 2025; for Ohio, this involves a reduction to 1,452 tons per MW. This amounts to a 21.5% decrease by 2025. So Ohio roughly needs to reduce its carbon emissions from the electric power sector by 22% by 2025.

Wait, 22.2% by 2025 – where have I heard that number before? Oh, right, that’s the standard for energy efficiency set by SB 221 back in 2008. Under those standards, Ohio’s four investor-owned utilities need to reduce the amount of electricity that their customers use by 22.2% through 2025, against a 2006-2008 annualized baseline. The similarities are startling.

sb 221 energy efficiency benchmarks

Annual energy efficiency benchmarks for Ohio’s investor-owned utilities, as specified by SB221 (courtesy of Mark Rabkin).

Now, you may note that carbon emissions and energy efficiency are not the same thing. And you’d be right.

But, under the EPA’s proposed plan, states that choose to invest in energy efficiency would need to improve demand-side energy efficiency by 1.5% per year from 2020-2030. Conveniently, SB 221 requires the state to improve its energy efficiency by 2% per year from 2020-2025, allowing it to meet and even exceed that standard. And while 22.2% savings still comes up short of the 27.7% mark required by 2030, the state would be well on its way to meeting this standard, and it could make up the rest of the gap by continuing to implement its existing renewable portfolio standard, which also exists due to SB 221.

In other words, Ohio already has compliance plan in place. The state passed it, nearly unanimously, six years ago. But, thanks to the legislature, we are just one signature away from derailing these standards.

SB 310 and Ohio’s compliance plan

SB 310 will leave Ohio in a precarious situation. The freeze would last until December 31, 2016, six months after the date that EPA has set for states to submit their compliance plans*. The state could sue over the rule, which may affect that date – Mike DeWine has already shown a predilection to waste taxpayer resources over the latest right wing cause du jour – but I feel pretty confident the courts will uphold the regulation.

So, where will Ohio find itself as the clock strikes midnight on January 1, 2017? Will it implement weakened energy standards, as SB 310 makes clear the legislature plans to do, or will it allow SB 221 to come back into force? Will it put together a satisfactory compliance plan, or will the US EPA have to step in and take over?

Surely, the legislators behind SB 310 considered these questions when crafting the law. Not quite. According to Tom Knox at Columbus Business First,

Rep. Sandra Williams of Cleveland, the ranking Democrat, asked him how the freeze would impact the state’s ability to meet new regulations to limit coal-plant carbon dioxide emissions. Balderson said he was unaware of the rules but didn’t think they would impact his bill.

That’s right. An elected official who sits on the Senate Public Utilities Committee and introduces a bill as significant as SB 310 openly admitted that he was “unaware” of forthcoming EPA standards that anyone with a passing knowledge of Google could have found out about. Did he miss the massive speech that President Obama gave last summer when he announced these rules? It wasn’t exactly a secret.

The climate change imperative in policy making

That’s what makes things like SB 310 or Cuyahoga County’s decision to sign a 20-year deal to get coal-fired power from from  Cleveland Thermal so mind boggling. Policy making doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Obviously uncertainty always exists, and it’s sometimes necessary to make simplifying assumptions and leave out exogenous factors. But the preeminent policy challenge of our times is not just one of those things you can ignore. Pretending science doesn’t exist won’t make it so.

A changing climate is not just one of many factors at play. It is a baseline factor that directly and indirectly influences everything else. From insurance markets to credit worthiness, from allergies to vector-borne diseases, from human and economic development to violence and conflict, climate change is always a factor in play. While it would be nice to pretend otherwise, it’s no longer an option available to us.

Even if you reject the overwhelming scientific consensus on this issue, it makes sense to assume it’s true. Because consider the risks if your wrong. What if that expensive new bridge or road your state just built was only designed to withstand one foot of sea level rise? Or what if a farmer invested his or her life savings in a crop that can’t survive the megadrought happening in the West?

Every single policy decision we make now, regardless how mundane or seemingly unrelated, must have climate change embedded in it. It may be convenient to pretend this one local project can’t possibly have any bearing on such a global issue – I’m looking at you, ODOT – but we cannot afford that luxury.

So the people in charge in Columbus can – and, I’m quite sure, will – continue to ignore what I’ve just said, because they have a clear profit motive to do so. But if there is one thing that these new carbon rules make clear, it’s that the day of reckoning on issue is coming, and it’s a lot closer than some people may like.

Ohio has 30 months to decide whether or not it will act on climate change or whether it will cling to the status quo. Because, whether or not Columbus likes it, the EPA has supremacy on this issue, and it has the law in its side.

So what does this all mean?

Oh, I guess you were expecting me to actually go somewhere with this. Okay then.

Ohio’s best option is for John Kasich to veto SB 310 and call on lawmakers to not only protect the state’s clean energy standards, but actually discuss ways to strengthen them through 2030. But seeing as I’m not the benevolent dictator of this state (but seriously, I’d be ever so benevolent…), and the Governor has made it clear he will sign SB 310, that leaves us searching for alternatives.

Given the options available, our next best choice is to ensure that Ed Fitzgerald and David Pepper get elected as Governor and Attorney General this fall. That would empower Governor Fitzgerald to veto any GOP-led plan to weaken the standards that may emerge during the freeze and ensure that Attorney General Pepper does not foolishly sue the EPA over the carbon rules. That may seem like a long shot at this point, but the alternative is far, far worse.

Ohio is poised to meet the EPA’s carbon rules while creating jobs, cleaning its air, and creating thousands of good jobs. Or we can throw all of that out the window to gamble that the GOP-led legislature can somehow come up with a law that is better equipped to do all of this than SB 221. Don’t hold your breath.

Update (6/4/2014 3:31 p.m.): I originally thought the EPA was requiring states to submit their compliance plans by December 31, 2016, the same date as the end of the proposed freeze. The actual date is June 30, 2016; I have updated the post to reflect this change.
Update 2 (3:44 p.m.): Brad Plumer just pointed me to a post from Resources for the Future, which argues that everything people have been saying about the 2005 baseline is incorrect. Apparently EPA was only using 2005 as the headline year, because President Obama’s commitment to reduce US emissions by 17% at the Copenhagen Conference uses 2005 as its reference point. But, in reality, all of the EPA targets for state carbon reductions are based on 2012 numbers, meaning that this rule really does represent a strong emissions reduction standard. Look for cheers from fellow environmentalists and cries of impending economic doom from fossil fuel boosters.

Here’s how climate change will screw up Memorial Day

children kiribati vickers gun
children kiribati vickers gun

Children sit astride a Vickers gun on Tarawa Island, a remnant from the Japanese defenses on the island during World War II (courtesy of The Global Mail).

Memorial Day was yesterday, a solemn holiday to recognize those men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country and did not return home from the field of war.

While President Lyndon B. Johnson officially recognized Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of the holiday, the first Memorial Day took place on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Here, a group of least 10,000 freed slaves staged a parade to commemorate the Union soldiers who had fought and died on their behalf. The parade took place on the site of Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, a race track that Confederate soldiers had converted into an outdoor prison for Union troops. Before the parade, 28 former slaves gathered on the site to provide a proper burial to the 257 soldiers who died in the camp’s deplorable prison and were unceremoniously laid to rest in a shallow, mass grave.

Memorial Day and climate change

Like all holidays, it is unsurprising to see Memorial Day sometimes used to promote political agendas. Joe Romm capitalized on Thomas Friedman’s column from Saturday to discuss the links between climate change and violent conflict. According to the Los Angeles Times, President Obama is expected to highlight that connection in his major foreign policy address at West Point tomorrow.

There has been much ink spilled over the climate-conflict nexus, including a chapter in the latest IPCC Working Group II report (PDF) and the recent update to the landmark 2007 report from the CNA. Accordingly, given these clear and potentially acute links, it is unsurprising to see commentators make the connection.

I want to focus on a different connection between Memorial Day and climate change. Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report documenting how climate change threatens vital national landmarks, including the historical Jamestown settlement and Cape Canaveral. We’ve already seen firsthand how rising seas and more severe storm surges can damage important sites, as evinced by the inundation of Ground Zero during Superstorm Sandy.

The Battle of Tarawa

But not all of these threatened landmarks are located in the US. Halfway around the world lies the small island nation of Kiribati (prounounced KIRR-i-bas), an archipelago of 33 coral atolls and islands that sits astride the Equator in the Pacific Ocean about 3,100 miles east of Australia. The country’s capital and largest city, South Tarawa, sits on the narrow coral atoll of the same name. More than 50,000 Kiribati – almost half of the country’s population – are squeezed onto this small islet just six square miles in area.

While this nation exists as little more than a blip in international politics or the global economy, it played an outsized role in the fight for supremacy in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. As The New York Times discussed on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa,

By themselves, the islands held little value to the Japanese or the American government. They were situated about halfway between Pearl Harbor and the Philippines and were barely large enough to hold an airfield. But they served as an essential steppingstone across the Pacific: If American bombers wanted to reach Japan, they would need an air base in the Mariana Islands; to capture the Marianas, they would first need the Marshall Islands; and for the Marshalls, they needed Tarawa. To fortify the atoll, the Japanese sent in 3,800 imperial troops, along with 1,200 enslaved Korean laborers to be thrust onto the front lines. They spent a year building concrete bunkers and planting massive cannons along the beaches. The leader of the Japanese garrison, Rear Adm. Keiji Shibazaki, predicted that it would take “one million men, 100 years” to seize the islands.

Beginning November 20, 1943, some 35,000 Marines stormed the island in an attempt to wrest it from Japanese control. By the time the fighting ended three days later, roughly 6,400 Japanese, Koreans, and Americans died. This number included around 1,100 Marines who, though they fell, did not die in vain. Their sacrifice allowed their comrades to seize the island and establish an essential foothold for Admiral Chester Nimitz’ island hopping strategy. Adm. Nimitz reportedly said that “The capture of Tarawa knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific.”

Unfortunately, the tropical heat eliminated any hope for a proper, dignified burial of the dead. The surviving Marines quickly buried their fallen comrades in shallow graves (due, in part, to the island’s low water table), then moved on. Military engineers soon moved in to pave over much of the island and construct an airfield. When crews returned to Tarawa in 1946 to exhume the remains of the Marines, the haste of the burials and poor record keeping made their task nearly impossible.

Forensic investigators located just half of the buried Marines. Supplemental crews, both official and volunteers, have helped to locate the unidentified remains of just over 100 others. But perhaps 520 Marines remain buried somewhere in the sands of South Tarawa.

north and south tarawa

North and South Tarawa islands in Kiribati (courtesy of The Guardian).

Climate change in Kiribati

Today, as in 1943, Kiribati sits on the front lines of the world’s greatest crisis. This crisis is not a world war, but the battle against global climate change. Most of Tarawa lies less than three meters above sea level, while the country’s entire land area sits, on average, just 1.3 meters above the Pacific. Under a high emissions scenario, the IPCC projects that global sea levels will rise by 52-98 centimeters by 2100. That number is likely low, however, as the report excludes recent research that shows more ominous trends, such as the news this month that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has entered an irreversible (if gradual) collapse.

Additionally, Kiribati’s location makes it even more vulnerable to sea level rise (SLR). It is located in the Western Pacific Ocean, where seas have been rising three times faster than the rest of the globe. According to the World Bank, by 2050 – within my lifetime – some 54-80% of South Tarawa could be fully inundated (PDF).

sea level rise rate western pacific

Rates of sea level rise in the Pacific Ocean (courtesy of NOAA).

Clearly, Kiribati is at tremendous risk. Anote Tong, the country’s president, has been pushing a policy of “migration with dignity,” whereby he works with neighboring states to take Kiribati migrants. Stating that his country has perhaps three decades before it becomes uninhabitable, President Tong recently purchased more than 6,000 hectares of land in Fiji. This represents just one of his contingency plans for his endangered (and rapidly growing) population of more than 100,000.

Ultimately, it won’t be too much water but, rather, too little water that dooms Kiribati and other small island states. That’s because, as sea levels rise, saltwater pushes into underground freshwater reserves. This process, known as saltwater intrusion, contaminates the freshwater resources upon which the islands’ residents depend. The IPCC has projected that South Tarawa’s supply of underground freshwater will shrink by two-thirds through 2050. This, along with the repeated impacts of more intense storm surges on infrastructure and crops will likely push those left on the islands to flee long before the seas reach their doorsteps.

Climate change will seriously challenge our existing international law system. Will we redefine refugee to include climate-induced migration? Can our definition of national sovereignty stay the same in a greenhouse world? Is it really possible for a nation-state to exist when its people have all left and its territory lies under the sea?

President Tong has proposed one possible solution to the latter issue. He has suggested that, in a worst case scenario, the Kiribati government could establish an outpost on Banaba atoll, which, at 81 meters above sea level, is the highest point in the country. This would allow the Kiribati state to maintain at least a ceremonial presence in its territory, even if most of it lies empty.

But the 520 US Marines who lie buried under the beaches of South Tarawa will not be so fortunate. They will not get the same dignified burial as those 257 Union soldiers in Charleston, nor will they get a tangible memorial like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. Unless we act immediately, both to search for their remains and to curb the carbon pollution that is driving climate change, these brave men who fought and died for their country will end up interred, anonymously, under the sea forever.

 

The Ohio GOP takes up another front in its all-out assault on clean energy

Senator Bill Seitz
Senator Bill Seitz

Ohio State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati (courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch)

You know that saying “When God closes a door, he opens a window”? Well, these days in Ohio that should really be more like “When God opens a window, he then changes his mind and repeatedly slams it on your fingers.”

This morning, I briefly got my hopes up when I saw an alert from Gongwer Ohio that the Ohio House had delayed its vote on SB 310. The House GOP caucus had planned to vote the bill out of committee and bring it to the floor today, but given the mounting pressure from wide array of groups, including the business community, it pushed the vote into next week.

charles nelson batchelder

Speaker of the Ohio House William Batchelder

Mike Dittoe, the spokesman for Charles Nelson Reilly…I mean William Batchelder (R-Medina) told the Columbus Dispatch“Members just wanted to talk through the bill a little more.”

Obviously this should be great news. The last scheduled session for the Ohio House before the summer recess is next Wednesday. This would seem to suggest that, if opponents could keep the heat on for a little longer, the House may not pass it before going on vacation. Obviously thinking that is true is a bit naive, but a guy can dream.

So I signed up for a Gongwer trial to read more about the delay. And then I came across this story immediately thereafter: “MBR Amendment Imposes New Siting Requirements For Wind Farms” (subscription required).

From the story:

Senators finishing up work on Gov. John Kasich’s mid-biennium review Tuesday added a provision that the wind industry described as another severe setback for renewable energy in Ohio.

The proposal included in an omnibus amendment to the MBR appropriations measure (HB 483*) would require wind turbines be at least 1,125 feet from neighboring property lines. The current 1,125-foot setback distance applies to inhabited structures on neighbors’ land.

The amendment was adopted in the Senate Finance Committee at the same time the House is preparing to vote on a bill (SB 310*) that would restrict Ohio’s renewable energy standards. (See separate story)

Lobbyist Dayna Baird, who represents the American Wind Energy Association, said the new setback language would “effectively kill all wind development in the state of Ohio.”

For example, of the 152 turbines on the Blue Creek wind farm, the state’s largest wind energy project, only 13 could have been built had the new setback language been in place at the time, she said.

The proposed change comes after state’s wind turbine setback was expanded in last year’s budget bill (HB 59*) from 750 feet from inhabited structures to 1,125 feet from homes.

Did you catch that? The Ohio GOP, just a year after increasing the setback requirement for wind turbines by 50% from 750 to 1,125 feet, has now decided that restriction should apply to neighboring property lines, not residences/structures. It inserted this completely unrelated poison pill into the mid-biennium review budget (MBR) under the cover of night, knowing full well that opponents are already so busy taking on their other assault on clean energy, SB 310, our attention would be diverted.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, there are currently 10 wind projects awaiting approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board. These projects would bring a combined $2.5 billion in investment to the state, largely in underserved areas. But rather than encouraging these investments, which would create good jobs, pollution-free energy, and local tax revenues, the Ohio GOP decided to tell the wind industry to go screw itself.

All of these 10 projects were submitted under the old rule, which required a 750-foot setback. But this amendment will now change this requirement so that the setback applies to property lines, ensuring that they are not in compliance with the law. This change comes immediately on the heels of the Senate ramming multiple poison pills into SB 310 that will have similarly devastating effects on the industry. AWEA has warned that, if this amendment is approved, these 10 projects are dead in the water.

It bears repeating – clean energy employs more than 25,000 Ohioans, and the state currently has the largest wind-related manufacturing industry in the country. But apparently the GOP’s utter fealty to the fossil fuel industry blinds them to these realities and forces them to see anyone working in clean energy as a potential threat. Naturally, Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) immediately hailed the amendment, calling it “long overdue” and saying he “applaud[ed] it heartily.” When the guy who compared clean energy to the Bataan death march supports an amendment, that should tell you all you need to know.

The Ohio GOP is trusting that we are too distracted by SB 310 to pay attention to the rest of their full-frontal assault on this state’s clean energy industry. We can still hope that Governor Kasich uses his line-item veto to strip this provision out of the MBR bill, but that can only happen if we demand it.

What is the real cost of freezing Ohio’s clean energy standards?

oec clean energy infographic
students protesting against sb 310

Students protesting against SB 310 in front of the Ohio Statehouse on Wednesday, May 14 (courtesy of Ohio Beyond Coal).

I have asthma. According to the CDC, I am one of 831,787 Ohioans and 25.9 million Americans living with this condition (PDF). That means that 1 out of every 12 Americans is living with asthma, up from 1 out of 14 in 2001.

While people who may not have firsthand experience with this illness may not understand, asthma is far more than just an inconvenience. I’ve heard and seen children with asthma describe feeling like fish out of water when they are suffering an attack. It’s terrifying to not be able to get the air you need. While I don’t think I was ever really in any acute danger, the fact remains that 185 children and 3,262 adults died of asthma in 2007.

As much as I hate to admit it, asthma came to define much of my childhood. From the day that I was diagnosed at either 5 or 6 (I can’t remember the exact date), my severe asthma was omnipresent. Many of my memories from this period involve such episodes, including the role that my mom played in helping me deal with these attacks. Growing up, my mom routinely worked 60-hour weeks and stayed until 3:00 a.m. or later every Tuesday night to edit her newspapers. Despite this, she was always there to listen to my lungs to see if I was wheezing; to pick me up from school or practice if I had an attack; to ferry me to and from the the ER when I needed treatment; and to sit next to me in the hospital for the long hours while I underwent tests, got chest x-rays, and did my nebulizer treatments.

I vividly remember my first major asthma attack. It was the spring of 1993, and I started having breathing trouble towards the end of the school day. The attack only got worse throughout the afternoon, and when my mom got home from work around 6:00 p.m., she immediately drove me to the ER at Fairview Hospital. We sat in that ER for hours before a doctor could see me and for several hours more before they were able to admit me for care. My mom stayed with me right until they took me up to my room for admittance at 3:30 a.m. I ended up spending three days in the hospital for treatment and observation (thankfully, it was the only time that I actually got admitted for asthma). This is just one of the thousand acts of kindness from her that I can never fully repay.

Fortunately, as I got older, I began to grow out of this severe asthma. Today, I am able to live a normal life without worrying about when my next attack will come. But, at the same time, I know that the threat remains, and I have my emergency inhaler on hand, just in case. I was reminded of this quite vividly back in the fall of 2005 when I went in for routine surgery. The procedure required me to go under general anesthesia, so the doctors intubated me. But, after the surgery, when they tried to remove the tube, I suffered a severe bronchial spasm that cut off my breathing. My blood-oxygen saturation levels plummeted into the mid to upper 60s (normal levels are 95-100%), and I ended up spending the next 24 hours in the ICU, an experience I recommend avoiding, if at all possible.

I have no idea how much my asthma diagnosis ended up costing my parents in medical bills and lost time at work, but I imagine the amount was substantial. I did see the medical bills that came in during my stay at the ICU and, even with insurance, they were staggering. For the millions of Americans who suffer with asthma everyday, many of whom do not have insurance, this diagnosis is a real burden. On average, asthmatics spend $3,300 in medical costs each year. According to CDC numbers, asthma costs total $56 billion in direct medical costs, lost school and work days, and premature deaths. Everyday in this country, 36,000 children miss school and 27,000 adults miss work due to this condition.

My past (and present) as someone living with asthma has made me an advocate for clean air. We know that air pollution is both a root cause of the condition and a proximate trigger of asthma attacks. And that’s what pisses me off so much at SB 310. By crippling Ohio’s clean energy industry and protecting the fossil fuel industry, it will directly contribute to more asthma attacks and more chronic pulmonary diseases. This bill will carry a high cost in blood and treasure for our state.

It’s great to focus on how this bill will destroy jobs and harm a thriving clean energy industry in the state (which I’ve done), but SB 310 proponents just counter with their BS “war on coal” retort, a completely disingenuous argument that is, nonetheless, powerful in this state. But it’s another thing entirely for proponents of this bill to hear about the ways that it will directly affect the health of thousands of Ohioans and just not even give a shit.

Yesterday. the Ohio Environmental Council released this infographic showing the benefits of the state’s clean energy standards during 2013:

oec clean energy infographic

Source: Ohio Environmental Council

Using these numbers and EPA incidence factors, we can roughly calculate the economic and health benefits of the clean energy standards in 2013 alone. According to 2011 EPA standards, every ton of NOx, SO2, and PM2.5 has has the following benefits:

incidence factors for power plant emissions

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

Accordingly, using these numbers, the reductions in NOx and SO2 emissions saved 3.5 lives, 267 lost work days, 59 asthma attacks, and 2.5 non-fatal heart attacks last year alone. And, based on Lepuele et al.’s economic benefit estimates, these standards had a health-related economic benefit of $208,620,000 in 2013.

But these numbers don’t even take into account the social benefit of the greenhouse gas emissions avoided by the standards. The US government currently uses $37 per ton as its social cost of carbon emissions. Accordingly, given that these standards saved 1,061,300 tons of GHGs in 2013, they created an economic benefit of $39,268,100. In total, using these conservative estimates, Ohio’s clean energy standards generated an additional economic benefit of $247,888,100 in 2013 alone.

These savings are not included in other analyses, but they are real, and they affect the lives of ordinary Ohioans everyday. The facts are clear – a vote for SB 310 is a vote for more asthma attacks, more heart attacks, more work and school days missed, more trips to the ER, more premature deaths, and more of the carbon pollution that is driving climate change. These are the the stakes.

If SB 310 proponents really wanted to show the real cost of these standards on Ohioan’s electric bills, as they claim, they should include a provision in the bill that requires the inclusion of these numbers. Somehow I doubt that would go over too well.

Why transit makes headlines in DC but not Northeast Ohio

joe biden rta
joe biden rta

Vice President Joe Biden speaks in front of a GCRTA rapid car during his speech in Cleveland last week (source WCPN).

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about Northeast Ohio’s transportation issues lately (there’s more where that came from), in part because it seems to be a key entry point into discussions about environmental and social issues in the region.

In the past, when I’ve tried to just engage with like-individuals over environmental issues, it has been a bit more difficult to break through. I’m beginning to think that this may be due to the fact that a lot of the traditional environmentalists in this region are older and less likely to engage through new media. The younger, more social media-savvy activists seem to have found transportation as their cause célèbre, given its salience to the region.

The politics of transportation in Northeast Ohio

Clearly, most of the horrors that have befallen this region – out-migration, urban decay, poverty, racial segregation, declining social capital, loss of status – can all find their roots, at least in part, in the sprawl-based development model that has predominated for the last 60-plus years. Transportation and the political economy around it has emerged as a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the power politics of the region. In my post on the sin tax, I quoted Erick Trickey’s description of how the issue reflected Northeast Ohio’s political fault lines:

The best way to understand most Cleveland political debates isn’t party politics. It’s, do you believe in spending tax money on “public-private partnerships” that draw people and business downtown? Or do you thinks that’s corporate welfare, giveaway of money better spent on other needs? That debate has run through our politics for decades, from tax abatement in the ’80s through Gateway in 1990 through the convention center debate in 2007, to the sin tax rematch yesterday.

Transportation battles in this region, particularly the Opportunity Corridor, shake out along these same lines. The powerful, moneyed interests like the Greater Cleveland Partnership come out in support of major highway projects, and dutiful politicians eventually fall in line. The interests of people living within the City of Cleveland (or Akron or Youngstown or Toledo or Canton…) and the surrounding inner-ring suburbs tend to be drowned out by those of people living in the outer-ring suburbs.

These latter individuals frequently seem to believe (and I apologize for being reductionist here) that they have a God-given right to speed through urban centers as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that the Cleveland-Akron metro area has more freeway miles per capita than all but three other metros and that congestion here is almost nonexistent, the answer always seems to be MOAR HIGHWAYS.

freeway miles per capita

Freeway miles per capita for the top 11 metro areas, as of 2007 (courtesy of next STL).

This rift seems to play out most clearly and acutely in the gulf between how we fund highways and how we fund transit. I’ve already discussed Ohio’s utter lack of interest and seeming repulsion towards funding public transportation in this state. But while I can understand (though not accept) the political and economic realities that produce that imbalance, I cannot understand the sheer indifference that seems to exist within the region towards it. How often does The Plain Dealer or the Columbus Dispatch report on this issue? To quote my classmate John Noel, “Where is the outrage?!”

Cleveland vs. Washington, DC

Compare the way that public transportation is covered here to DC. Not to pick on Adam Serwer here, but if you follow a DC-based journalist like him on Twitter, you’ve no doubt seen that person complain on multiple occasions about issues with the DC Metro (particularly the Red Line). There are multiple blogs and sites dedicated to complaining about WMATA with names that range from Unsuck DC Metro to the NSFW “How Fucked is Metro?” In DC, every delay or malfunctioning escalator (and there’s a lot) is potential fodder for the 6:00 p.m. news.

In Cleveland, you’ll hear a couple of groups and read a handful of blogs discussing the issue. And this is not intended to take away from the important work that groups like Ohioans for Transportation Choice are doing or the solid coverage from sites like Rust Wire and GreenCityBlueLake. But can you imagine people in Cleveland unleashing anything like the cluster bomb of outrage that detonated over road closures during the filming of Captain America about problems with the Rapid or HealthLine? I sure as hell can’t.

The devil is in the demographics

gcrta ridership by year

GCRTA ridership numbers from 1978-2010 (courtesy of Cleveland.com).

So what’s the difference? Well, not surprisingly, I would argue that it largely boils down to the demographics of transit riders in the respective regions. WMATA is a major, viable, primary source of transportation for many people in the DC metro area. WMATA riders compiled nearly 344 million trips in 2012 (PDF), roughly 942,383 per day. Greater Cleveland RTA, the largest transit agency in Ohio, had just 49.2 million total rides last year. At its peak in 1980, that number was 129,691,743. Thanks to the great exodus from our cities, transit ridership fell by two-thirds in just 30 years.

According to a 2010 report (PDF), the median income for Metrobus and Metrorail riders swas $68,110 and $103,800, respectively. Compare that to GCRTA and METRO Akron. In Akron 90% of METRO riders reported making less than $20,000*, while roughly half of GCRTA’s riders have incomes below $25,000.

Obviously this gap reflects the broader income disparity between Northeast Ohio and the DC metro area, but it is still striking. Everyone rides the Metro in DC, from homeless individuals up to and including US Senators. While it’s true that a large number of professionals commute to work on transit in Northeast Ohio, the demographics are clearly skewed.

metro akron household income

Source: METRO Akron (via Jason Segedy)

Moreover, transit riders in Northeast Ohio often have few alternatives. Roughly 90% of METRO riders do not have regular access to a vehicle, while 38% of GCRTA riders say they lack both a driver’s license and a car. Just 19% of Metrobus and an astonishing 2% of Metrorail riders reported living car-free. Lastly, transit users in Northeast Ohio are also far more likely to come from communities of color. Seventy-two percent of GCRTA riders are African-American; compare that to Metrorail, where 76% of riders were White.

This is why transit makes the headlines in DC and remains a peripheral issue, at best, in Northeast Ohio. It’s a lot easier to raise an issue when it directly affects people with agency, power, and a voice. That’s not the case here. People continue to turn a blind eye to the appalling lack of safety and amenities for transit here, because they can just drive past it. We obsess over whether or not turning the West Shoreway into a boulevard will add 60-90 seconds to our commutes, and our representatives locally and in Columbus parrot that view.

Until people here are exposed to transit, it will remain the Other. And no one is going to raise hell to get funding for that.

Jason Segedy provided me with a copy of the METRO RTA On-Board Survey from Fall 2013. All Akron data are from this survey.

How much will SB 310 cost you?

sb 310 costs

Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy  just released a new report that demonstrates how SB 310 will raise electricity rates in Ohio. Find out how much more you will have to pay from 2015-2016 if the legislature freezes Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards.

[CP_CALCULATED_FIELDS id=”6″] [CP_CALCULATED_FIELDS id=”7″]

*Calculators use estimated additional cost of electricity for residential and commercial users in Ohio from the OAEE/OPAE report. The report uses Public Utilities Commission of Ohio data, which is based on 750 kWh per month for residential customers and 300,000 kWh per month for commercial customers.