When John Kasich became Ohio’s new governor in January 2011, he began his quest to destroy one of the better policy changes instituted by Ohio’s previous governor, Ted Strickland: benchmarks requiring Ohio utilities to sell more solar and wind energy each year.
Adopted in 2008, the benchmarks helped to jump start Ohio’s new, green economy. Family-sustaining manufacturing jobs increased as Ohio companies began meeting demand for parts vital to the growing solar and wind industries. Ohio soon became a national leader in clean, green jobs.
Kasich opposed the new benchmarks, a legislative panel was formed to examine their merits and in June 2012 Ohio became the nation’s first state to roll back renewable energy standards when Governor Kasich signed Senate Bill 310 with no public comment.
“Dirtier air. Higher electric bills. Lost jobs and investment. These are the new ‘dividends’ in store for Ohio from this major divestiture in clean energy,” said Trish Demeter, managing director of Energy and Clean Air Programs for the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC).
Along with health and environmental groups, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, a leading business trade association, unsuccessfully tried to keep the benchmarks in place.
Government watchdog groups opposed the underhanded process used to conceal information about the positive impact of the benchmarks.
A state agency commissioned a report – that cost taxpayers almost $435,000 – to tally clean-energy jobs in Ohio but it sat on a shelf until the heated legislative debate ended. The Columbus Dispatch got its hands on the report and it showed Ohio had 31,322 jobs in the state’s “alternative energy economy” as of 2012, a number much larger than other commonly cited studies.
Kasich administration officials said the report’s methodology was “flawed.” Yet, they made no effort to recover the tax money spent on this “flawed” report.
Kasich also signed a bill – opposed by 70% of Ohio voters – that opened up state parks and other public lands to drilling and fracking. He supports “clean coal” and is skeptical about cutting emissions without waiting for China and India to go first.
As his run for president geared up, Kasich began to back away from his previous comments that climate change is man-made and real. His new position: “we don’t want to destroy people’s jobs based on some theory that’s not proven.’’ His campaign quickly tried to walk back the comment, insisting he’s not a climate change denier, just a person who is concerned over “what can be done about it.’’
In that fateful remark, Kasich signaled his intent to walk the GOP party line on climate change denial. By dismissing climate change as unproven, and by espousing the false dichotomy that we must choose between preserving jobs and saving the planet, he showed his willingness to abandon moderate politics in order to appeal to right-wing voters.
Ohio’s governor also has a major say in shaping energy policy through appointments to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the regulatory body that helps to set the prices that businesses and homeowners pay for their electricity and natural gas.
Early on, he signaled his pro-utility, anti-environment bent by tapping Todd Snitchler as PUCO chairman. He is a former intern for Akron-based FirstEnergy, a powerful force at the state capital. Kasich also appointed Lyn Slaby to the Commission, even though he has zero background in utility regulation. He is a former Summit County prosecutor and 9th District Court of Appeals judge.
According to the Akron Beacon Journal:
“He (Slaby) admitted that he doesn’t know much about utility operations in the state, but that he’s fascinated by the challenge and will employ the same skills he used as a judge to analyze facts in issues brought before the commission.”
Gone from the panel is Cheryl Roberto, a commissioner best known for promoting energy efficiency and the environment.
The PUCO faces a huge challenge that will demonstrate to Ohioans just how much the utilities’ power has increased under the Kasich administration. FirstEnergy and AEP Ohio have asked the PUCO to approve subsidies, paid for by ratepayers, that will guarantee them enough profits to subsidize aging, polluting coal-fired power plants and the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant.
Critics insist the request is outrageous.
A decision is not expected before the March 15th primary.