Ohio House budget slashes additional funding for public transit

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Yesterday, the Ohio House passed its version of the state’s biennial budget, HB 64. The proposed budget, which is the largest in state history (by far), appropriates $131.6 billion in total spending for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. This includes $71.5 billion in General Revenue Fund (GRF) appropriations. The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate, which, based on reports from The Plain Dealer, will pay it no mind and develop a budget of its own. The next two-plus months should be…interesting.

HB 64 sets aside more than $700 million less than Governor John Kasich had requested in his budget proposal, which he released in February. Yet, according to Plunderbund, the GRF spending is still 43% more than the final budget passed under Governor Ted Strickland. Moreover, HB 64 far exceeds the cap on increased GRF spending set in place by the Republican-controlled stated legislature in 2006. As Plunderbund explains, while the State Appropriation Limit law dictates the state cannot increase GRF appropriations by more than 3.5% in any given year, this budget blows that (stupid) limit out of the water. Under HB 64, GRF spending would spike by 11.3% in FY 2016 and 4.7% in FY 2017.

Last month, I noted that the Governor’s budget increased GRF spending on public transit by $1 million per year, to $8.3 million annually for FY 2016-2017 from $7.3 million in FY 2014-2015. (According to Ohio Legislative Service Commission (LSC), the state actually spent $10,134,611 during FY 2014.) As I argued at the time,

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

Well, it looks like even this modest enthusiasm was misplaced. HB 64 does away with this additional funding, locking in GRF spending on transit at $7.3 million for the next two years. Whereas transit accounted for a pitiful 0.035% of the GRF in FY 2014, this number will decrease to just 0.02% in FY 2016 and FY 2017.

Let’s express that in per capita terms, shall we? Based on projections from state’s Development Services Agency, Ohio’s population will reach 11,549,120 this year. That should grow to roughly 11,554,270 and 11,559,420 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Accordingly, the state will spend a whopping $0.63 per person on transit each year.

Clearly, Ohio does not prioritize public transit. To show how little our legislators care about this issue, I have collected a few other budget line items from the Ohio House’s budget, for comparison’s sake:

  • Ohio Grape Industries (spending to promote the state’s wineries): $970,000 per year for FY 2016-2017
  • Art acquisitions for public properties: $225,000 per year
  • Choose Life (state issued license plates to discourage abortions): $75,000 per year
  • Ohio State Racing Commission (“dedicated to the protection, preservation, and promotion of horse racing and its related industry components”): $31,535,000 million per year
  • Ohio State Fair Harness Racing: $235,000 per year
  • Coal Research and Development Program (a program to “development and implementation of technologies that can use Ohio’s vast reserves of coal in an economical, environmentally sound manner” LOL): $234,400 per year
  • Coal Research & Development General Obligation Bond Debt Service: $5,991,400 in FY 2016, $5,038,700 in FY 2017
  • Ohio-Israel Agricultural Initiative (a program to “improve agricultural trade and R&D ties between Ohio and Israel”): $200,000 per year
  • State printing costs: $21,568,075 in FY 2016, $21,688,106 in FY 2017

This is just a small selection of the things that Ohio lawmakers would rather fund than public transit.

We already know, for instance, that ODOT spends more money to mow the grass alongside Ohio’s highways than it does on transit. We’ll also apparently spend nearly $1.2 million to find “a less costly and easier way to cut the grass and manage the trees and shrubs along the state’s interstates and highways.” Oh, and did I mention that the state has set aside more than $200,000 for legal fees to uphold our ban on same sex marriage? But $1 million more for transit is unthinkable.

Sadly, I can’t even say that this budget passed strictly alongside party lines. That’s because, while 5 Republican representatives jumped shipped and voted against the bill, 3 Democrats actually voted in favor of it. All three of these legislators – John Barnes, Bill Patmon, and Martin Sweeney – hail from Cleveland, where nearly one-quarter of households lack access to a car.

One day, maybe we’ll break the car-centric fever raging through the Statehouse. Until then, we’ll just have to muddle through in a state that has no problem spending $429 million on a freeway bypass for a county that’s home to 25,000 people, but cannot find another dime for the nearly 250,000 people who ride transit each day (PDF) in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus.

Update: (4/24 2:20pm): To provide some additional context on just how far Ohio’s level of transit funding has fallen, I wanted to add the comparable funding data from 2000, the year in which transit funding peaked. In 2000, Ohio’s GRF reached $20.2 billion. That same year, the state spent $44.32 million from the GRF on transit. As such, transit expenditures accounted for 0.11% of total GRF spending, 10.6 and 11.12 times more than it would reach in FY 2016 and FY 2017 under the House’s budget, respectively.

I also had some questions about how I got the number of people who ride transit on a daily basis in Ohio’s three largest cities. I took the annual number of transit riders for each city in 2011 from the American Public Transit Association, summed them, and divided that number by 365. That total was 243,299.5 riders per day. Because this is averaged across the entire year, it obviously overestimates the number of riders on weekends and significantly underestimates the number of commuters on weekdays. It also fails to account for any of the other transit authorities in the state.

The Opportunity Corridor is just business as usual for ODOT

ohio transit funding
ohio transit funding

From ODOT’s “Ohio Statewide Transit Needs Study”

Over at Rust Wire, Angie Schmitt has a detailed assessment of the Opportunity Corridor, which, as of Monday, has been fully funded. As a result, despite some tinkering on the margins over issues such as the location and nature of bike lanes, the road’s design is pretty much set in stone. ODOT plans to put phase 2, which involves the construction of the new boulevard from Quebec Avenue to East 93rd  Street (phase 1 will widen East 105th Street), out to bid later this month; phase 3, the extension of the boulevard west to East 55th, will go out for bid sometime thereafter.

Schmitt walks through the ways that the road has been improved (or made less worse) and the issues that remain, one by one. It’s worth reading the whole post, if you’ve been following this project over the past several years. Obviously, I have my views on the road, but the project is a fait accompli at this point. One of the issues that she raises is the way that the project will affect transit riders:

We learned late in the process of this project that RTA, after months of denials, was considering closing both the East 79th Street rapid stations, in the heart of the project area. The RTA board has since decided these stations will remain open. But it is unclear where the money will come from to perform the repairs — which will cost at least $20 million. RTA has a $300 million maintenance bill coming due on its rapid system altogether and it certainly doesn’t have the money in its operating budget. RTA was able to negotiate $3 million from ODOT through this project for the East 105th street station, but how it’s going to raise the money for those other stations remains an open question. That is a less than 1 percent concession to transit from ODOT in this project, although the road bisects neighborhoods where 40 percent lack access to a car. I don’t know how anyone can consider this a fair distribution of transportation resources, but everyone just seems to be resigned to the idea that ODOT won’t give anyone money for transit.

Despite all the hype around how the Opportunity Corridor marks a shift for ODOT and would be some sort of model for future urban transportation planning in Ohio, this road is just business as usual from a state that puts cars ahead of people. ODOT has had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 1990s – forget the 21st century. The question of transit funding is emblematic of this larger trend.

Recall from last month my post on ODOT’s study on transit funding in the state. As I noted, the state of Ohio currently provides just $7.3 million per year for public transit from general revenue funds, equal to roughly 0.8% of total spending. Under Governor Kasich’s 2016-2017 budget, the state would increase that GRF contribution to $8.3 million, or a whopping 0.9% of spending. Accordingly, the Opportunity Corridor is just a variation on a theme – Ohio is apparently incapable of contributing more than 1% of funding for transit.

That ODOT study concluded that, within the next 10 years, the state of Ohio will need to increase its share of funding from 0.8% to 10%. That’s still a pittance compared to other states, which – as Greater Cleveland RTA CEO Joe Calabrese noted on WCPN – typically pitch in 20%. But it would a dramatic change of course here. If ODOT really cared about transit funding, perhaps it should have taken its own advice and increased the share of transit funding from the Opportunity Corridor to 10%. If the total project cost remained the same, that would have increased the money available to around $30 million, more than enough to offset the costs of upgrading the East 34th & 79th Street rapid stations. Of course, that didn’t happen, and it was never going to.

The more things change, the more they stay the same in this state.

At this rate, Ohio will fully fund transit sometime in the 22nd century

e 79th rapid station
e 79th rapid station

The nearly decrepit East 79th rapid station, which the Greater Cleveland RTA estimates will require $16-18 million in renovations to reach ADA compliance (courtesy of Cleveland.com).

Governor John Kasich released his biennial budget proposal for 2016-2017 last week, and there’s some good news for transit users in Ohio: the budget actually proposes increasing state transit funding! In this budget, the Governor lays out plans to increase the amount of money that the Ohio Department of Transportation allocates from the state’s General Revenue Fund to $8.3 million from $7.3.

This proposal represents the first year-over-year increase in state transit spending since 1998. Given that the state has reduced GRF spending on transit by an astonishing 83.5% since its peak in the year 2000, even this modest increase is kind of a big deal. While $1 million is a drop in the bucket in the big picture – it doesn’t even take the state back to 2011 funding levels – it may signal that Ohio is at least slowing the rate at which it has slashed transit spending. I mean, even a $1 increase would be notable in this environment.

ODOT transit funding study

But, about that bigger picture. Last December, ODOT released the preliminary results of a study it commissioned to explore unmet transit funding needs in the state. The report, from respected consulting firm Nelson Nygard, states that the state needs to double the amount of money it spends on public transit each year to meet projected demand. Moreover, just to fulfill unmet demand in 2015, ODOT would need to increase its transit spending by $289 million ($192 million in capital spending and $97 million in operating costs). As The Plain Dealer‘s Alison Grant noted at the time,

A decade from now, Ohio would have to be spending roughly double its $900 million annual outlay on public transit, or $1.8 billion, to meet expected demand. The ODOT study recommends that the state portion of the budget rise to 10 percent instead of today’s 3 percent.

In light of these realities, I decided to put the Governor’s budgetary outlay into perspective: does it really put Ohio on the right path to meeting transit demand? Does this increase in funding seem to represent an actual change in trends, or is it a minor blip for a state that will continue to lag behind its neighbors?

Placing Governor Kasich’s proposal in context

Let’s do some back of the napkin calculations, shall we? The Nelson Nygard study estimates that Ohio will need to spend $1.842 billion on transit from all revenue sources (rate payers plus municipalities, the state, and the federal government). In 2012, Ohio spent a total of $893.1 million. ODOT contributed $27.3 million, or approximately 3%, of this total, with $7.3 million from the GRF and $20 million coming from federal Flex Funds, which states can allocate to transit or highway projects. If the state increases is portion of total transit spending to 10%, as Nelson Nygard recommends, that would require a total investment of $184.2 million from ODOT, or an increase of 674%.

Accordingly, ODOT needs to come up with an additional $157 million in the next decade. Taking into account that the Governor’s current budget proposal would lock in spending levels through 2017, that reduces that time period from 10 to 8 years. So, to get to the levels suggested by ODOT’s study, Ohio would need to increase spending by $19.5 million per year, on average. That’s considerably higher than what the Governor is recommending.

Where would the Governor’s proposal leave us, then? Well, let’s consider 3 separate proposals. First, we will assume that the state increases GRF funding for transit by an average of $1 million per year (given that the state operates on a biennial budget cycle, this would likely mean that funding increased by $2 million each budget cycle). Second, let’s project that ODOT increases total transit funding by the same year-over-year rate that the Governor is proposing in his current budget. Going from $27.3 million to $28.3 million represents a 3.66% annual increase. Third, let’s be extremely optimistic and imagine that Ohio actually proposes increasing GRF funding for transit by the same rate as we find in 2016-2017 budget. Using the numbers provided, that would give us a 12.05% annual increase in GRF spending, which, of course, is little more than a pipe dream. But anyways.

Scenario 1: Increase of $1 million per year

This estimate isn’t exactly rocket science. Ohio needs to come up with another $157 million to meet projected needs for 2025. So at an annual increase of $1 million per year, the state is currently on course to meet 2025 demand in the year 2172. Now, that number is actually a bit misleading, because it doesn’t take into account inflation. As the total amount of money that ODOT contributes to transit grows, each $1 million funding increase gets proportionally smaller. Assuming a 2% annual rate of inflation (the average rate for the US economy since 2010), state funding would fail to keep pace with inflation starting in 2057. That would dramatically extend the end date for achieving full funding beyond 2172.

Perhaps even more depressingly, if we follow this same trend line, the state would not even return to year 2000 funding levels until 2052. Of course, that number once again fails to take into account inflation; the state would have to spend $60.93 million today to equal the real value of its $44.32 million investment in 2000. Another way of looking at it – the state’s current investment of $7.3 million is only worth $5.3 million in USD 2000. So, for Scenarios 2 and 3, let’s recognize that these quick calculations are nominal, not real, values. Real values would make things that much bleaker.

Scenario 2: Increase in total transit funding by 3.66% per year

If ODOT increased its annual GRF outlay for transit spending by 3.66% each year – a value which should keep pace with inflation, on average – the state would see its transportation funding reach $184.2 million in 2099, just in time to ring in the 22nd century. In nominal values, we would finally get back to year 2000 funding levels in 2063. This estimate is later than that from Scenario 1, as GRF funding grows at an annual rate greater than 3.66% through 2035 in that scenario.

Scenario 3: Increase in GRF funding by 12.05% pear year

Lastly, we get to run this wildly optimistic scenario, which has essentially no basis in reality. If the state continue to increase the amount of money it contributed from its general fund to transit spending at a rate of 12.05% per year, it would still take until 2043 to meet 2025 needs, in nominal terms. Hell, we wouldn’t even catch up to year 2000 funding levels until 2031! And just to emphasize how unlikely this scenario is, it would mean that, by 2068, the state would commit more just to public transit than ODOT will spend in total for 2015. Not happening.

Conclusion

Ultimately, as these scenarios demonstrate, Governor Kasich’s proposed increase in public transit funding hardly amounts to a drop in the proverbial bucket. And that’s only if it gets through the legislature untouched, which is highly unlikely. Keep in mind the Ohio House is more conservative than at any time in the state’s modern history, and the Tea Party generally frowns upon public transportation. Consider, for instance, the all out war on transit launched by the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity. It’s hard to see how Ohio can get itself on the right course in this current political environment.

I give the Governor credit for at least restoring a sliver of the transit funding that he has slashed since taking office in 2011, but we need to keep things in perspective. This state has consistently failed to support its citizens who rely on public transportation, and it will take a Herculean effort to fix the problem. Providing $1 million more per year is little more to putting a band-aid on a severed artery.

Minnesota’s DOT is ready for climate change. ODOT? Not so much.

duluth flood damage
duluth flood damage

Heavy damage to a road in Duluth, Minnesota following flooding from the Tischer Creek in June 2012 (courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio).

Climate change will have profound and diverse impacts upon infrastructure throughout the United States, including transportation infrastructure. Rising sea levels, stronger storm surges, more severe flooding, land subsidence, soil erosion, melting permafrost, and more frequent freeze-thaw cycles will all strain our already aging, deteriorating roads, bridges, and ports. The American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently given the country’s infrastructure a D or D+ on its annual report card since 1998, and the US slipped from fifth place in 2002 to 24th by 2011 in World Economic Forum’s transportation rankings. Throw in profound and unpredictable changes to the climate that facilitated the rise of human civilization, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is for this reason that the President Obama’s administration has attempted to drag the federal government into the 21st century on climate change planning, despite considerable institutional inertia, not to mention stalwart opposition from Congressional Republicans and special interests. Just last week, the President issued an executive order requiring all federal agencies to include long-term sea level rise projections during the siting, design, and construction of federal projects. Planning for such changes and the threat of 100- and 500-year flood events, which will become drastically more frequent in a greenhouse world, will be of vital importance for the US Department of Transportation. Critical institutions are already at risk from near-term climate change. Parts of Oakland International Airport, for instance, could wind up under water during the daily high tide if sea levels rise just 16 inches.

But, given the complexity of our federal system of government and the aforementioned institutional inertia, the administration’s actions will take time to trickle down to the state and local level, where many of the daily decisions on transportation infrastructure construction and maintenance occur. While this fragmented structure has enabled some progressive state and municipal governments to take steps to combat climate change in the absence of meaningful legislation from Congress, it can also create a highly uneven system in which certain locales are far more inclined to incorporate climate change considerations in transportation planning. Given the fact that the roads, bridges, and ports we build today will likely still be in operation 30-50 years from now, each day that we delay increases our adaptation deficit – that is, the gap between our current level and an ideal level of adaptive capacity to a changing climate.

To demonstrate this uneven level of adaptation, consider the different approaches to climate change planning from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). This week, Minnesota Public Radio is featuring a series on climate change in the North Star State. An article this morning discussed how the state has adapted to more severe rainfall events in recent years.

In all three cases, whether officials say it in so many words or not, they are adapting their cities’ infrastructure to a changed climate, one that has been dumping more rain and bigger rains on Minnesota.

Warmer temperatures have an impact on infrastructure as well – more freeze-and-thaw cycles mean more potholes, for example. But because roads require relatively constant maintenance, road planners can adapt to a changing climate on the fly.

Not so with storm and wastewater systems, which are built to last as long as a century. That, say urban planners, is where the real challenge lies, and it is where some Minnesota cities have been focusing their efforts to adapt to climate change.

As the article notes, severe rain and flash floods have taken a drastic toll on infrastructure, including transportation systems, in recent years. Fortunately for Minnesotans, MnDOT has been leading the way in the effort to incorporate changing precipitation patterns and flood risks into planning. The agency recently completed an assessment of climate change risks to infrastructure in two districts, District 1 and District 6, which are located in the northeast and southeast portions of the state, respectively. In the introduction to the assessment, MnDOT writes,

Recognizing this, MnDOT planners and engineers have long considered minimizing the risk of flash flooding in the siting and design of the state’s roadway network. However, as has been the standard practice worldwide, they have traditionally assumed that future climate conditions will be similar to those recorded in the past. Climate change challenges this assumption and calls for new approaches to understanding vulnerabilities across the highway system and at specific transportation facilities so that appropriate actions, adaptations, can be taken to minimize expanding risks.

This project…represents a starting point for developing these new approaches. The focus of this pilot study is on flash flooding risks to the highway system. While flooding is not the only threat to the state’s highway system posed by climate change, it is likely to be one of the most significant and has already caused extensive disruptions to the transportation system in many areas.

If only Ohio had taken such a proactive approach to this issue. To be fair to ODOT, the agency does appear to be considering climate change in its planning process. There is a section devoted to the issue in Access Ohio 2040, the state’s long-term transportation planning vision. Perhaps strategically, the document refers to it as “climate variability” and completely bypasses the question of what is causing climate change. Now, the supplement to this section does touch on the fact that greenhouse gas emissions, including those from transportation, are driving the observed changes, though it does so somewhat halfheartedly. And then there’s the presentation on climate change infrastructure vulnerability that seems more focused on the potential benefits for the state from altering our extant climatic systems.

But, at least ODOT appears to have faced up to the issue. Access Ohio 40 calls for the state to complete a Statewide Climate Variability Study “within the next two years.” If the state meets this metric, the study should be finished by summer 2016, leaving the state roughly 18 months behind MnDOT. Now, I should note that, unlike ODOT, MnDOT’s assessment was one of 19 pilot projects funding by the Federal Highway Administration through its 2013-2014 Climate Change Resilience program. Then again, states, metropolitan planning organizations, and other entities had to actually apply to secure FHWA funding. I can find no evidence that Ohio bothered applying. Additionally, I have searched through the State of Ohio’s FY 2014-2015 transportation budget, and I find no evidence that the legislature has ponied up the $250,000-500,000 that ODOT stated it would need to complete its climate variability assessment. So I question whether Ohio is on track to finish the assessment by next summer.

And, even if ODOT has made some commitment to climate change adaptation at the strategic level – a highly dubious proposition – there is absolutely no evidence that this commitment has worked its way down to the project level. Consider the Opportunity Corridor, one of the largest projects currently being funded in the state. A handful of individuals and organizations submitted comments to ODOT’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on the project, imploring the agency to take climate change into account. Here’s how ODOT responded in its Final EIS:

[I]t is analytically problematic to conduct a project level cumulative effects analysis of greenhouse gas emissions on a global-scale problem… Because of these concerns, CO2 emissions cannot be usefully evaluated in the same way as other vehicle emissions. The NEPA process is meant to concentrate on the analyses of issues that can be truly meaningful to the consideration of project alternatives, rather than simply “amassing” data. In the absence of a regional or national framework for considering the implications of a project-level greenhouse gas analysis, such an analysis would not inform project decision-making, while adding administrative burden.

In other words, we think your request is stupid and a waste of time, so nope.

ODOT does not operate in a vacuum. I’m sure there are a lot of good civil servants trying their best to meet the needs of Ohioans at the agency, but its direction is ultimately shaped by the elected officials in power in Columbus. Governor Kasich may at least pay lip service to climate change, but he has shown no inclination to actually act on the issue. Quite the contrary – he is responsible for signing SB 310 into law last June. Attorney General DeWine, for his part, is currently suing the EPA to stop its efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

And then there’s the GOP-dominated statehouse. The only reason Senator Bill Seitz will ever leave the legislature is through term limits, regardless of how many bombs he tosses about enviro-socialist rent seekers or the Bataan death march. And Senator Troy Balderson, the person who sponsored SB 310 and serves on the committee that regulates electric utilities, was blissfully unaware of the EPA’s plan to regulate coal-fired power plants a year after it was announced. It’s not exactly a shock that ODOT is a laggard here.

Those of us in Ohio who want an agency that is responsive to our desires to create an equitable, low-carbon, fiscally responsible transportation system need to keep pressuring ODOT, but we also need to win elections. Until then, our civil servants and public officials will keep their heads firmly lodged in the sand.

Ohio’s Clean Energy Bond Proposal Is A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

ohio statehouse
ohio statehouse

The Ohio Statehouse (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

So this is a bit delayed, but I wrote this post for Plunderbund at the end of July:

On Monday, July 7, Attorney General Mike DeWine announced that he had certified the petition language for the so-called Ohio Clean Energy Initiative. This initiative, which would be an amendment to the state Constitution – provided it gets the necessary 385,253 certified signatures – would require the state of Ohio to issue $1.3 billion in bonds per year over the course of 10 years to finance clean energy investments. This marks the fourth separate time that the group behind the idea, Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future, has attempted to put it before voters.

Now, on the surface, this proposal seems like a good idea, particularly in light of the recent Republican-led efforts to smother the growth of Ohio’s clean energy industry. Due to the combined effects of SB 310 and HB 483, which Governor Kasich signed into law in June, clean energy investors now see Ohio as something of a no go zone. Shortly after the Governor signed SB 310 into law, the American Wind Energy Association warned that 10 planned wind energy projects, which together account for more than $2.5 billion in investments, were under threat. Three of these projects already appear to be on the chopping block.

Surely, a proposal that would inject $13 billion into the state’s endangered clean energy industry is worth supporting, right?

Well, though the initiative did get a lot of coverage in Ohio’s newspapers, most of the articles were remarkably short on details. And that’s exactly the issue. Surprisingly, this proposal has managed to unite the Columbus Dispatch editorial board and Secretary of State Jon Husted with the Ohio Sierra Club, the Ohio Environmental Council, Environment Ohio, and the Union of Concerned Scientists in firm opposition. So what gives?

First, the proposal suffers from a startling lack of transparency and accountability. It calls for the creation of the Ohio Energy Initiative Commission (OEIC), a private LLC to be incorporated in Delaware, a state not exactly known for rigorous corporate oversight. This OEIC would have complete control over how the bond revenues would be allocated and spent; no one in the legislative or executive branches would be able to provide input, ostensibly to protect the process from partisanship. Strangely enough, despite the fact that this Commission would have complete control over these public dollars, the proposed amendment does not clearly indicate how or even that its members will be selected.

Given the controversy surrounding the state’s latest venture into this territory – JobsOhio – it should give Ohioans great pause to consider billions in public funding to an anonymous group of individuals who may or may not have any relevant qualifications. While the OEIC would be subject to public records laws, unlike JobsOhio, granting this much power to an unknown entity would represent a dangerous precedent for the state. Moreover, the language specifically requires the state to provide an astonishing $65 million for OEIC’s operational expenses on an annual basis. To put that into perspective, the Ohio EPA has an operating budget of $10.9 million.

Specifics on the initiative’s backers are few and far between. According to The Plain Dealer, Harvard Business Services, Inc. registered the LLC with the Delaware Division of Corporate Records. As a result, we are unable to know the names and affiliations of the individuals behind this group.

While German Trejo, a spokesman for Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future, told Bloomberg Businessweek the effort is “a truly citizen-driven idea” led by a group of concerned Ohioans, the evidence does not seem to back him up. The Dispatchdescribes its backers as “five people from central Ohio,” and neither Trejo nor any other representative has provided additional information on the group’s genesis.

Yes for Ohio’s Energy Future has even tried to gain credibility by stealing it from the Ohio Third Frontier Initiative. On its FAQ page, the group cites outcomes from Third Frontier as a way to justify its proposal. But, unlike the OEIC, Third Frontier is housed under the Ohio Department of Development and subject to public scrutiny and accountability.

Secondly, although the organizers depict themselves as clean energy advocates and liberally use pictures of wind turbines and solar panels, the actual text of the of proposal leaves the door open to financing for dirty energy projects. In section (A)(1) of the proposed Constitutional Amendment, an eligible energy infrastructure capital improvement is defined as projects that  “shall include, but not be limited to, solar, wind, biomass, battery technology, and geothermal facilities…” (emphasis mine).

Perhaps the only positive thing to come out of SB 310 was that it removed the requirement in SB 221 that the state get 12.5% of its energy from “advanced energy” technologies by 2025. These projects can include controversial alternatives to traditional renewables, such as waste-to-energy plants and “clean coal” technologies (perhaps the most oxymoronic name I’ve ever run across). Given Ohio’s continued dependence on fossil fuel energy – the state got two-thirds of its electricity from coal in 2013 and roughly 10% from natural gas – the potential for such dirty energy projects to crowd out funding for clean energy is clear.

Yet, unlike wind and solar, such “advanced” energy alternatives are frequently hampered by environmental and budgetary concerns. We know that many coal-friendly politicians in the Midwest would love to see their states allocate large sums of money for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at coal plants. Such technologies scrub carbon dioxide from power plant emissions, capture it, and store it underground. While it’s true that we may one day need to invest in CCS in order to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere, as a hedge against catastrophic climate change, that day has not yet arrived. CCS technologies require large sums of energy, lowering the efficiency of power plants; as a result, evidence suggests that CCS can increase the cost of coal-fired power by as much as one-third.

Moreover, CCS projects have continually been beset by delays and cost overruns. The Bush administration initially cancelled the much hyped FutureGen 2.0 project in Illinois back in 2008 after the price tag ballooned to $1.65 billion, while Southern Power has once again delayed its Kemper County plant into 2015 over rising costs. Solar and wind, in contrast, enjoy steep learning curves, allowing systems to get cheaper with each subsequent installation. The price of solar panels, for instance, falls by more than 20% each time that the installed capacity doubles.

Unfortunately, it appears as though this proposal would stand a strong chance of succeeding, provided it makes the ballot. In a January poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, 65% of respondents indicated they would likely support the measure.

Ohio’s energy future stands at a crossroads over the next two years. The state can opt to make SB 310’s two-year freeze just that, or it can abandon a path that helped create 25,000 jobs, reduced energy costs, and inject millions into the state’s economy. This proposal muddies that picture even further by making well-intentioned Ohioans think they are acting in the state’s best interest, when the result could be otherwise. I’m optimistic that the people behind this effort will fail, once again, to get their proposal on the ballot. But it is imperative that we truly understand what is in the text and write another bad idea into our Constitution.

Ohio GOP’s attacks on clean energy are already costing the state

blue creek wind farm
blue creek wind farm

The Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert County (courtesy of The Dayton Daily News).

One month ago (well, one month and 4 days, but who’s counting?), Ohio became the first state in the country to freeze its clean energy standards, when Governor Kasich signed SB 310 into law. At the same time, the Governor signed HB 483, the Mid-Biennial Review of the budget, into which the Ohio GOP slipped a new setback requirement for wind turbines.

The American Wind Energy Association, along with other opponents of these bills, warned lawmakers about their potential impacts on the state’s budding clean energy industry. In a press release issued shortly after the Governor signed both bills into law, AWEA said:

Gov. John Kasich and the Legislature today abandoned $2.5 billion in current wind energy projects, which now face cancellation along with jobs, leases, payments to local governments, and orders for factories, over a needlessly restrictive setback requirement that Kasich signed into law today.

In a press conference yesterday, Governor Kasich tried to defend his record on clean energy and environmental issues. He once again claimed that he played an essential role in “moderating” SB 310, ensuring that the bill only froze the standards, rather than rolling them back altogether. He also defended the increased setback rule for the first time publicly, telling a group of business leaders in Bellview,

“Private property rights are important. People choose to live somewhere. You just don’t go in there and disrupt their life.”

Now, the Dispatch piece does not explain if the Governor feels the same way about oil and gas wells, for which the Ohio Revised Code only mandates a 100- to 150-foot setback rule; given his history with the fossil fuel industry, I’m going to guess not. But based on the Governor’s comments, it would seem like SB 310 and HB 438 should have minimal impacts.

Senator Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), who never met a hyperbolic statement he didn’t like, echoed the Governor’s views. In an article on Gongwer (paywalled) from May, he said,

Today is just the latest in a long line of sky-is-falling hyperbole coming out of their camp. If you’re serious about it, you’d be in there talking to the people that are actually going to vote instead of on the airwaves and jumping up and down at hastily contrived press conferences.

So, one month later, let’s take a look at the clean energy landscape in Ohio. Were those of us opposed to SB 310 and HB 483 really just fear mongering to get our way, as the Ohio GOP has claimed? Would that this were true. In recent days, two major renewable energy companies have stated that they are delaying utility-scale wind installations, and they may end up scrapping the projects altogether.

On Friday, the Lima News reported that Iberdrola Renewables, the company that built the Blue Creek Wind Farm in western Ohio, has suspended work on both its Hog Creek and Leipsic Wind Farms. Hog Creek, which has already been approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board, would include 35 turbines, generating approximately 67 megawatts (MW) of electricity. Iberdrola is awaiting final approval for the Leipsic installation, which would have 75 turbines turning out 150 MW of power.

The next day, Everpower Renewables said that one of its projects, the Buckeye Wind Farm in Champaign County, may never get off the ground, despite the fact that the company has already invested millions in it. The project, which includes two phases, would see the company build roughly 100 turbines, producing enough electricity (200 MW) to power 50,000 houses. Buckeye would also generate $1.2 million in annual tax revenues, create more than 100 construction jobs, and offset 308,000 tons of CO2 each year. Yet, due to a lengthy legal battle and the knock on effects of these two bills, Everpower may have to abandon Buckeye entirely.

While it may seem unlikely that the bills would affect projects that have already been approved (particularly given the fact that the wind siting amendment in HB 483 grandfathered in such projects), that no longer appears to be the case. The way the law is written, the new, more restrictive siting requirements would kick in if any changes were made to a project’s scope of work. These changes could include utilizing a newer wind turbine model.

According to AWEA, Ohio ranked 26th in the country last year for wind power, generating 432 MW. These two bills could effectively derail projects that would generate a combined 417 MW, or 96.5% of this total. So much for the supposed hyperbole from SB 310 opponents. It may be easy to decry the other side as nothing more than another Cassandra, but we should remember one thing – Cassandra was right.

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.

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.

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.