Rep. Bill Patmon to fight infant mortality through the power of condescension

bill patmon planned parenthood
bill patmon planned parenthood

Bill Patmon announces his bill to defund Planned Parenthood in Ohio.

Last month, two seemingly unrelated reports came out. The first involved a series of leaked videos from an anti-abortion activist group that purported to show Planned Parenthood employees trying to sell the tissue and organs of aborted fetuses. The second was a report updating Ohio’s abysmal record on infant mortality rates. Now, at first glance, these two stories have nothing to do with one another. That is, unless you’re Representative Bill Patmon of Cleveland.

On July 28, Rep. Patmon stood on the steps of the Ohio Statehouse to announce that he had introduced House Bill 294, a bill that would bar the state from issuing state and certain federal funds from “any entity that performs or promotes elective abortions.” Apparently Rep. Patmon and his primary co-sponsor, Rep. Margaret Conditt (R-Liberty Township), decided that the controversy over the Planned Parenthood videos provided perfect cover for them to try and defund the organization in Ohio.

Now, in order for this bill to make any legal sense, Reps. Patmon and Conditt need for you to ignore a few details. Like the fact that Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to performing abortion services. Or the fact that Ohio law already places Planned Parenthood at the end of the line for state funding. Or the fact that, under provisions in the Medicaid law, the state has no authority to bar patients from visiting the health care provider of their choice. But Rep. Patmon has never been one to let facts get in the way of a chance to preach at Ohioans.

But the truly galling part of this bill is the way that Reps. Patmon and Conditt are attempting to cloak it as a way to address Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. In an email to colleagues, the two claim that the funding taken from Planned Parenthood would be shifted to “empower groups who are committed to combating Ohio’s atrocious statistics [on infant mortality].”

As recent reports from the Ohio Department of Public Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show, the state ranks near the bottom – 45th out of 50 – when it comes to infant mortality rates. While Ohio’s infant mortality rate did decline somewhat in 2013 – down to 7.33 deaths per 1,000 live births from 7.6 in 2012 – it remains 21% above the national average of 5.96 deaths. The issue is drastically worse in Cuyahoga County, which had a rate of 8.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. For Cleveland, that number was a depressing 13.0 deaths in 2013. The 2012 rate for African Americans in Cleveland was even higher at 15.73 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than 2.5 times the national rate.

Of course, HB 294 will do absolutely nothing to address this ongoing issue. On the contrary, it could actually make the problem worse. As I noted, Planned Parenthood devotes just 3% of its resources to abortion. The other 97% goes towards a variety of other medical services, including sex ed, contraception, STD and HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, cancer screenings and referrals, pregnancy tests, and referrals for prenatal care for pregnant women. Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio treated nearly 57,000 patients last year alone. Many of the patients who rely on Planned Parenthood’s services are low-income and have few other options. As Rep. Gretta Johnson (D-Akron) stated, “This legislation is a purely political maneuver that will further restrict access to necessary healthcare for Ohio’s women, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged and already struggling to meet their basic health needs.”

That Rep. Patmon would place his ideology above the interests of his constituents is hardly surprising. This is the same man who co-sponsored the “Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in 2013-2014, a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs. Patmon eventually backed down, but only after drawing intense criticism. So don’t fall for the (D) that comes after his name. Bill Patmon is a Democrat in the same way that Adam Sandler is funny – some people may have believed that back in the 90s, but we should all know better by now.

Rather than actually stand up for the interests of his constituents, Rep. Patmon is more interested in lecturing them. While announcing HB 294, Rep. Patmon had the nerve to attack African Americans in Northeast Ohio – the majority of people in his House district – for being concerned over excessive use of police force within their communities. “You hear a lot of demonstrations across the country now about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “Well, they skipped one place – they should be in front of Planned Parenthood.”

Perhaps Rep. Patmon has to use condescension to cover up the fact that he has done nothing to address the actual challenge of infant mortality within his district. Instead, he has consistently stood up for the interests of the fossil fuel industry to pollute poor and minority communities throughout the state. The third largest contributor to Rep. Patmon’s campaigns for the Statehouse has been FirstEnergy.  That’s the same FirstEnergy that operated the Lake Shore Power Plant on Cleveland’s east side for 104 years before it was forced to shut down this April in response to the Obama administration’s mercury regulations. That plant sits just upwind from much of Rep. Patmon’s district, including neighborhoods like University Circle and Kinsman that have infant mortality rates higher than Bangladesh, Haiti, North Korea, or Pakistan. In 2012, the NAACP ranked Lake Shore as the 6th worst coal plant in the country for environmental justice, given its high levels of pollution and proximity to tens of thousands of low-income persons of color.

Yet, if Rep. Patmon actually cared about infant mortality, as he claims, he would step up and tackle air pollution. A litany of studies have demonstrated a clear link between in utero and neonatal exposure to air pollution and a host of negative health outcomes, including low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality. In a landmark 2003 study, researchers Kenneth Chay and Michael Greenstone explored the impacts of the decline in particulate matter pollution as a result of the 1980-1982 recession and changes in infant mortality rates. Their results were stunning. They found that the decline in air pollution was responsible for 80% of the total reduction in neonatal mortality in the United States during that period. In their conclusion, they state [FYI, TSP means total suspended particulates, another name for coarse particulate matter]:

We find that a 1 µg/m3 reduction in TSPs is associated with 4-7 fewer infant deaths per 100,000 live births at the county level…Most of these effects are driven by fewer deaths occurring within one month of birth, suggesting that fetal exposure during pregnancy is a biological pathway. Consistent with this, we find significant effects of TSPs reductions on deaths within 24 hours of birth and on infant birth weight. The analysis also reveals nonlinear effects of TSPs and large infant mortality effects at TSPs concentrations below the EPA-mandated air quality standard. Overall, the estimates imply that about 2,500 fewer infants died from 1980-82 than would have in the absence of the [10% reduction] in air pollution.

Additionally, multiple studies demonstrate that exposure to air pollution from natural gas extraction is linked to lower birth weight and higher rates of infant mortality. Despite this, Rep. Patmon was 1 of just 3 Democrats to vote for HB 483, which drastically increased the setback requirements for wind turbines in the state. This bill ensured that setbacks for wind turbines in Ohio are now up to 10 times greater than those for oil and gas wells. Patmon also cast the deciding vote to move HB 375, the pathetic House GOP severance tax bill for oil and gas extraction, out of committee; fortunately it died in the full House. His fealty to fossil fuels knows nearly no bound.

So it’s great that Rep. Bill Patmon has a new-found concern for Ohio’s infant mortality crisis. But perhaps he should spend more time addressing the actual causes of the issue and less time delivering morality lectures to this constituents.

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.

Watch the GOP destroy Ohio’s clean energy industry with this one weird trick

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Knox at Columbus Business First just outlined a little-known but incredibly significant part of SB 310 that will have wide-ranging implications for the future of Ohio’s clean energy industry.

From the post:

The bill would allow utilities under a renewable-energy contract to be released from the agreement “if there is a change in the renewable energy resources requirements,” according to the latest version of Senate Bill 310, passed by the Ohio Senate last week and being heard Tuesday in the House Public Utilities Committee.

If American Electric Power Company Inc. (NYSE:AEP), for example, signed a 20-year purchase agreement with a wind turbine company to provide some power for its customers, any future change in renewable energy requirements would allow AEP to void its contract.

While it would not affect existing renewable energy contracts, such as FirstEnergy Solutions’ deal to purchase power from the Blue Creek Wind Farm, it would apply to any new renewable energy contracts signed by one of the four investor-owned utilities after SB 310 becomes law. As Knox notes,

Without a two-decade guarantee of revenue, financial backers of wind projects would be hard-pressed to put up money.

“That is the ultimate done deal, it’s over, kiss all wind renewables gone,” said Jereme Kent, general manager of Findlay-based wind company One Energy LLC. “Even if wind was half the price, you could not sign a contract with that provision.”

With all of the attention surrounding the other God awful provisions in SB 310, including the two-year freeze and the elimination of the requirement that 50% of renewable energy is produced in Ohio, this small clause, buried on line 950 of the legislation (PDF), has been overlooked. Here’s the actual text in question:

Sec. 4928.642.  Every contract to procure renewable energy resources or renewable energy credits entered into by an electric distribution utility or an electric services company on or after the effective date of S.B. 310 of the 130th general assembly shall contain a change-of-law provision. Such a provision shall provide that the parties to the contract are released from their obligations under the contract if there is a change in the renewable energy resource requirements, governed by section 4928.64 of the Revised Code.

Without question, these 80 words inject so much uncertainty and chaos into Ohio’s burgeoning renewable energy industry that they may effectively strangle it in its crib. It’s hard to see any utility-scale renewable energy project getting financing when the utility can simply renege on its deal if any changes are made to SB 310 going forward.

Interestingly, this section was not included in the original form of SB 310 (PDF), as it was introduced to the Senate in March. Rather, someone slipped it in behind closed doors when the GOP leadership rewrote the bill last week.

Given the hands on-role that Governor Kasich played in changing the bill, I can’t help but wonder whether or not he was involved in inserting this section or was aware of it before the bill reached the Senate floor. Either way, the existing of this provision and the Governor’s apparent indifference (if not approval) for it clearly belies his supposed support for the 25,000 clean energy jobs in this state.

In his official statement with Senate President Faber last Thursday, the Governor claimed that SB 221’s standards “are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery.” That could not be farther from the truth. The real challenge to job creation and economic growth is SB 310 itself.

The stakes just got even higher in this fight. You can no longer pretend to back clean energy and the jobs and economic development it creates if you support SB 310.

Conservative Ohio group uses push poll to attack clean energy, fails miserably

blue creek wind farm
blue creek wind farm

The Blue Creek Wind Farm in western Ohio (courtesy of Business Wire).

Over at Columbus Business First, energy reporter Tom Knox posted a piece yesterday afternoon titled “Business group poll says Ohio voters want energy efficiency mandates changed.” According to the post, a coalition of Ohio business groups conducted a poll of 800 registered Ohio voters, in which 72% of respondents indicated they wanted the state to revise the energy efficiency and renewable energy standards set by SB 221.

This poll seems extremely bewildering, particularly considering the fact that Ohioans have repeatedly expressed overwhelming support for the clean energy standards on multiple occasions. Just two weeks ago, an identical 72% of Ohioans stated just the opposite, indicating they support the standards in their current form and would oppose revising them.

Moreover, recent nationwide polls find similar results. In a Gallup poll, Americans preferred renewable energy to fossil fuels by a 2-to-1 margin, wanted the government to invest in ramping up renewable energy production 67% to 32%, and supported implementing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions 63% to 35%. Another poll from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication validates this latter result, finding that Americans support forthcoming EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants by a nearly identical 64% to 35% mark.

So what’s going on here? Perhaps this is just another example of Americans not truly understanding policies or being inclined to support something when it’s phrased one way but not another? We know, for instance, that even as most Americans generally oppose Obamacare, they continually support the actual provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Then I actually looked into the details of the poll. It was conducted by a coalition of business and fossil fuel interests, including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Industrial Energy Users-Ohio. All of these groups have close ties to the fossil fuel industry, particularly FirstEnergy. The group, which is so fly by night that it doesn’t even have a website or bring up anything on Google, has chosen the particularly Orwellian name “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs.” Apparently fossil fuel industry jobs are sustainable, but Ohio’s 25,000 clean energy jobs are not.

According to Knox’s post, here is the actual text of the question that garnered the headline result, a blatantly transparent example of push polling:

Six years ago, when the Ohio legislature passed the law mandating reductions in electricity consumed, certain assumptions were used to justify the law, many of which were wrong. For example, legislators assumed electricity would be in short supply and new electric generation would be expensive. But today, there’s ample low-cost electricity and will be for years to come. Knowing this … should the Ohio state legislature, taking into account the new information, go back and change the law?

If a college freshman tried to use that question in Statistics 101, s/he’s probably fail the class. The poll was also conducted by The Tarrance Group, a high-price DC polling firm, which brags it “is one of the most widely respected and successful Republican strategic research and polling firms in the nation.”

FirstEnergy and its friends can continue to shell out thousands of dollars to buy the poll results they want, but it won’t change the fact that the people of this state have, do, and will continue to support clean energy But all that coal money can, and has, bought much of Ohio’s legislature. The utility companies gave more than $1.3 million to legislators (PDF) from 2008-2013, and they expect something for their investment.

We need to keep the heat on our elected representatives in Columbus as they finish debate on SB 310. Otherwise, we risk letting their fossil fuel benefactors keep turning the heat up on our planet.

Update (4/30/2014 9:16am): Tom Knox provided me with the full press release and set of survey results. Taken in full, the poll seems a bit more credible than the one question would have it seem out of context. That said, there are still several methodological issues with it.

In the first question, where 56% of Ohioans seem to come out against SB 221, the question does not actually ask whether respondents oppose the law on its merits; it simply asks if they agree that “the government should mandate reductions in
electricity use by Ohio’s residential and businesses users.” That is exactly the type of wording that garners opposition to policies in the abstract, such as Obamacare.

Secondly, the poll continually asserts that Ohioans will pay more on their electricity bills – $45 this year – to meet the energy efficiency mandates. Nowhere does it mention the fact that customers can opt into rebate programs financed by these surcharges, nor does it mention the fact that energy efficiency programs have saved Ohio ratepayers more than $2 for every $1 invested, according to the electric utilities themselves. Moreover, Ohioans have already indicated (PDF), in multiple polls, that they are willing to pay more for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Fortunately, they don’t have to.

Thirdly, the poll asks two questions about whether or not ratepayers should have the option to opt out of paying the costs of the clean energy mandates. This is exactly the type of question that sounds wonderful in theory, but the Devil is in the details. Allowing ratepayers to opt out of paying into these programs would render them completely ineffective; it would be a de facto repeal in all but the name.

Enabling customers to take advantage of utility rebate programs without paying into them would allow them to become free riders, who would enjoy the benefits of energy efficiency (e.g. lower wholesale electricity costs) without having to bear any of the costs. It’s interesting how conservatives suddenly support subsidies and “picking winners and losers” when the winners are their industry friends. A voluntary opt-out provision would simply drive up the costs of compliance to the point where the programs were completely suspended. We know that the members of “Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs” would like to see SB 221 repealed in its entirety. But because that would never fly – see SB 58 – they want to hide behind semantics and do it under the cover of night instead.

I will continue to say this over and over and over and over again: Existing Ohio law requires all energy efficiency programs to save ratepayers more than they cost. If they do not pass this total resource cost test – which they have, by the way – the Public Utilities Commission is legally obligated to reject them.

The entire foundation of this poll is based on the phony premise that energy efficiency programs cost Ohioans more than they save. That’s completely unfounded, and, as a result, this poll is nothing more than a house of cards. The Supreme Court may claim that money equals speech, but it doesn’t enable you to buy your own facts.

GOP beware: Ohio overwhelmingly supports clean energy

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Well, the Ohio GOP is at it again. After Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) failed to even get the support of his own caucus for SB 58, his bill to mangle Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, the GOP leadership has decided to pursue a new course – just letting FirstEnergy decide what to do.

On Friday, Senator Troy Balderson (R-Zainesville) introduced SB 310, a bill to immediately and indefinitely freeze the efficiency and renewables standards at 2014 levels, which would cap them at roughly one-tenth and one-fifth of the final numbers, respectively. The bill looks an awful lot like one that FirstEnergy tried to sneak through the lame-duck legislature under the cover of night in November 2012.

I won’t dive too deeply into the details of the bill or the parade of horribles it will unleash on Ohio, as it has been covered pretty effectively by other outlets; I want to focus on a different perspective, instead. Midwest Energy News has a thorough, useful primer, and the PD was actually ahead of the game by denouncing the bill as “misbegotten” and noting it would take Ohio backwards into the dark, coal-stained days of its past.

Plunderbund goes into great detail on the history and benefits of SB 221, the bill that established the state’s energy standards in 2008, and the likely consequences of SB 310 – higher energy bills, billions in lost economic activity, thousands of jobs foregone, air and water pollution, etc. As the post rightly notes,

Senator Faber made it clear that he hopes to rush this bill through the legislature and have it on the Governor’s desk before the May recess. The GOP is counting on the idea that you aren’t paying attention to this issue or that you will buy into the misinformation they are spreading. The opponents of SB 221 are not looking out for the interests of Ohioans. They are simply defending the economic interests of the fossil fuel industry and electric utilities…

The Ohio GOP is not targeting SB 221 because it has failed to work; they’re targeting it precisely because it has worked so well. In order to defend the well-being of economy, environment, and the people of our state, Ohioans need to protect SB 221.

As the French say, précisément.

But as I said, I wanted to focus on a different angle to this story. Proponents of SB 221, including Senators Seitz and Faber, continue to claim that they are standing up for the interests of ordinary Ohioans, not just their utility company benefactors. Sen. Faber claimed this bill is “based on evidence and science,” while Sen. Seitz, who loves to call his opponents “enviro-socialist rent-seekers,” repeatedly argues that the existing standards “constitute a hidden electricity tax on consumers.”

One would assume that if the standards were truly nothing more than a hidden green tax to benefit a bunch of socialist treehuggers, ordinary Ohioans would be universally opposed to it and happy to call for its appeal. Not quite.

In a poll conducted during February 2013, Ohioans demonstrated their support for the state’s energy mandates. Almost 80% of respondents expressed support for existing policies to require that at least a portion of electricity be generated from clean energy sources, while 65% indicated that they specifically support increasing renewable energy generation as a replacement for coal and natural gas.

Last November, Small Business Majority surveyed Ohio’s small businesses to get their views on the subject. They found that 53% of the state’s small businesses support SB 221 in its current form, while just 43% stood opposed. Moreover, 65% of those surveyed said that renewable energy “can have economic benefits for small business owners, such as lowering utility bills and providing new business opportunities for entrepreneurs.” Ohio’s small businesses know that the mandates have helped drive the development of a vibrant clean energy sector in the state, which already employs more than 25,000 people.

But even more surprising were the results of a survey last July from the Yale Project on Climate Communications. While the main headlines included the fact that 70% of Ohioans believe climate change and occurring, and 49% believe it is manmade, there was some information buried in the report that is germane to this debate. According to the study,

A majority (59%) supports requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources—even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year. Comparatively few (35%) would oppose this policy.

Rather than fearing the potential economic impacts of SB 221, Ohioans have embraced them with open arms. That’s because they know that the benefits of the state’s energy mandates far exceed any potential costs. In the same survey, 43% of respondents felt that switching from fossil fuels to clean energy would increase employment and economic growth. And Ohioans want their leaders to act now. Majorities – 54% and 56%, respectively – want Governor Kasich and the state legislature to do more to address climate change, including ramp up clean energy generation.

So the Ohio GOP and their friends at the big utility companies can continue to delude themselves that writing love letters to coal-fired power plants is a winning campaign strategy. But if they sow these seeds of discontent this spring, they’re going to have to reap them in November.

FirstEnergy: The Grinch Who Stole from Ratepayers

firstenergy grinch

Image courtesy of @darth, who is a freaking national treasure.

In this season of giving, FirstEnergy seems intent to give its customers the finger.

Based on Ohio law – SB221, which was passed nearly unanimously in 2008, to be exact – the state’s investor-owned utilities must provide a portion of their electricity from advanced energy sources. By 2025, when the state’s renewable portfolio standard is set to expire, the utilities are required to source at least one-quarter of their electricity from such sources; of this amount, at least half of this total must come from renewable energy sources, like solar and wind.

But recognizing the constraints of quickly ramping up green energy production in a state where it was largely nonexistent before 2009 – along with a wise desire to take advantage of economies of scale – SB221 allowed utilities to buy renewable energy from other providers or to purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) from those providers when sufficient energy is not available. These RECs are an essential component of any renewable energy program.

Unfortunately, FirstEnergy, which rejects the value of energy efficiency/renewable energy and continues to fight aggressively against the mandates, has consistently failed to meet its obligations under the law. Environment Ohio, which grades each of the state’s four major utilities based on how well they abide by the mandates, gave FirstEnergy an F in year 1 and a D- in year 2. FE has come into compliance with the mandates since this point.

But as FE continued to fight the law with one hand and tread water with the other, it decided to purchase a number of RECs to meet its renewable energy mandates. In doing so, however, it drastically manipulated the REC market, allowing it to extract millions of dollars in excessive charges from ratepayers. As Plain Dealer energy reporter John Funk writes:

In a kind of reverse Robin Hood maneuver, FirstEnergy managed to pay the highest known rates for the credits when it bought them in those early years, including some from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions…

[A] management audit by Exeter Associates of Columbia, Md.,found that FES paid up to 15 times more for credits than the Illuminating Co., Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison would have spent had they just paid the fines for not buying the credits.

In fact, the cost of those renewable energy credits was higher than RECs bought anywhere in the country, before or since, the audit noted.

A consultant to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) calculated that FE’s actions allowed it overcharge customers by at least $100 million. NRDC looked at the numbers and came up with $130 million in overcharges. In August, the PUCO called out FE’s malfeasance and required it to return $43.4 million to ratepayers for its manipulation of the REC market.

But rather than acknowledge its wrong doing, FE has decided it won’t go down without a fight. Instead of returning the money back to its customers, the company has filed an appeal of the PUCO’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court. It apparently thinks that, as long as you have the money, two wrongs make a right.

So as we approach Christmas, let’s hear it for FirstEnergy, Ohio’s largest private utility and The Grinch Who Stole $100 Million from Ratepayers.

Please pardon my awful parody of Dr. Seuss:

While all Ohioans seemed to like renewable energy a lot, FirstEnergy, who lives above downtown Akron, does not.

The company hated green energy, everything in the sector. It had no good reasons, just some straw men and specters. It could be that it was concerned about costs. It could be, perhaps, that it feared about jobs being lost. But I think that the most like reason for its tantrums and fits may have been that the policy didn’t fit its ideological interests.

Happy holidays.

Bill Seitz has sure changed his tune on Ohio’s Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard

sb 221 energy efficiency benchmarks

On May 1, 2008, then-Governor Ted Strickland signed Substitute Senate Bill 221 (SB 221), making Ohio one of 29 states (plus DC) in the country to establish energy efficiency resource standards (EERS).

The bill mandates that the state’s investor-owned utilities (IOUs) reduce their energy consumption by 22.2% by 2025. This mandate is broken down into yearly increments – each utility is supposed to meet each annual goal on the path to the overall reduction. For 2013, IOUs must reduce the annual electricity consumption of their customers by 0.9%.

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

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

The bill also required IOUs to generate at least 25% of their electricity from advanced energy sources by 2026. Of these “advanced energy sources,” at least half must come from true renewable energy sources, like wind and geothermal (the bill includes a 0.5% carve out for solar energy). The other half can come from alternative sources, including “clean coal” (carbon capture and sequestration) and, as of Fall 2011, combined heat and power.

To date, the bill has largely delivered on its promises. According to Environment Ohio, the standards have saved enough energy (negawatts) to power 267,000 houses for a year. Additionally, the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) has sparked the installation of enough solar and wind generation capacity to power 95,000 houses for a year. Furthermore, the bill has contributed to the growth the renewable energy industry in Ohio, making good on the promises of job creation from its proponents. In 2011, Ohio ranked 5th in the country for green jobs, with 137,143. This industry – which had the highest growth rate of any sector in the US economy from 2010-2011 – has contributed significantly to Ohio’s economic recovery. Green jobs account for 2.8% of Ohio’s total workforce, higher the national average (2.6%).

Despite the success of this legislation, the bill has come under attack recently by a group of conservative lawmakers and industry interests. As a part of its broader effort to fight renewable energy at the state level, ALEC has placed SB 221 squarely in its sights. Two conservative state senators – Sen. Kris Jordan and Bill Seitz – are leading this charge. This effort is also the latest assault on energy efficiency and renewable energy in Ohio from FirstEnergy, the electric utility whose incompetence brought you the 2003 East Coast blackout.*

FirstEnergy's failure to properly maintain its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Northwest Ohio led to the development of a football-sized hole in the reactor lid. According to a review, the reactor could have been 60 days away from a meltdown (courtesy of The Plain Dealer).

FirstEnergy’s failure to properly maintain its Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Northwest Ohio led to the development of a football-sized hole in the reactor lid. According to a review, the reactor could have been 60 days away from a meltdown (courtesy of The Plain Dealer).

Last week, Sen. Seitz told the Wall Street Journal that that mandates in SB 221 reminded him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.” Setting aside the absurdity of this statement, it represents a remarkable shift for Seitz on the bill in just 4 years (he initially proposed to scrap the EERS & RPS entirely in 2011; that bill never made it out of committee). Seitz has conveniently failed to mention that he voted for SB 221 in 2008. In fact, the bill sailed through the Ohio State Senate unanimously. And it passed through the Ohio House by a 93-1 vote. During the debate on the bill, Seitz never offered any opposition to it on the record, nor did he try to amend it in any substantial way.

This is an awfully big change from a legislator who tried to paint himself as a reasonable moderate during the contentious debate over SB 5. Yet, I guess it’s not surprising from a man who has served on the Board of Directors for ALEC and has received nearly $63,000  in campaign contributions since 2000 from industries ALEC represents, including oil and gas.

 

*FirstEnergy has been pushing to kill SB 221, even as it promotes its own rebate programs for energy efficiency made possible by the legislation. Hillariously, as I was writing this post, I received an email from the company promoting their new round of rebates for energy efficient appliances.