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Senate GOP: Freeze Energy Standards Pending Outcome of Clean Power Plan

Senate Republicans are still proposing to continue the current freeze of Ohio's clean energy standards until the legal fate of the federal Clean Power Plan (CPP) is known, but are seeking input from the Kasich administration on an acceptable timeframe, according to Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati).

The Energy Mandates Study Committee, created during the last Session of the General Assembly by SB 310, recommended an "indefinite" freeze of the standards, which Gov. John Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews called "unacceptable." Seitz says the "hitch" was the word "indefinite." 

"I'm perfectly willing to put an end date on it and change 'indefinite' to 'definite.' But in order to do that, we need greater clarity around a number of questions," Seitz said, noting it is important to know when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) is planning to submit its Clean Power Plan (CPP) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). He also said it will remain unclear what the CPP's actual mandates are until the conclusion of a lawsuit filed against USEPA by Ohio and more than 20 other states. 

"Until we know, it would be foolish of us to spend a lot of money doing something else," Seitz said. "We should move forward with whatever is left of the Clean Power Plan. Otherwise you run the risk of having two different sets of mandates and that's just stupid." 

Heidi Griesmer, Ohio EPA deputy director of communication, said the Ohio EPA is planning on submitting an extension request with the USEPA in September. She said the agency must conduct a public outreach initiative as part of that process, noting regional public hearings will begin in March.

"We don't know which direction we are going to go. Right now we are evaluating options," Griesmer said, noting the state's legal challenge to the plan. "We are kind of on a dual track. We are evaluating what we would need to do with the plan should it hold up." 

Seitz said Senate Republicans have begun meeting with members of the House and the Kasich administration on all of the recommendations in the Energy Mandates Study Committee report, and expects legislation to be introduced in Spring 2016.  

John Fortney, Senate GOP press secretary, said meetings or hearings across the state on the issue are also a possibility. 

"Ohioans deserve a responsible energy plan that must protect consumers and businesses who employ thousands of Ohioans from the potential of an energy plan that is unsustainable and unaffordable," Fortney said. 

Advocating a different point of view on the topic Thursday were Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood), Teresa Hartley of United Steelworkers District 1 and Michele Timmons, the mother of an asthmatic son.

"It is time to reinstate Ohio's strong renewable energy and energy efficiency standards and reduce harmful power plant emissions through implementation of the Clean Power Plan," Antonio said. "We simply cannot afford any more delays in protecting our economy, our environment, and our health --especially the health of our children." 

Antonio said the clean energy standards should not only be reinstated, but improved upon, noting they created jobs and reduced emissions. She also said the CPP could prevent 90,000 asthma attacks a year. 

"As parents, we always want what is best for the future of our children," Timmons said. "By implementing the Clean Power Plan and restoring Ohio’s clean energy standards, our state’s leaders have the opportunity to stand up for the health of our kids. It is the right thing to do, and it will make this mother proud to be an Ohioan."

Hartley said reinstating the clean energy standards would "grow quality jobs."

"From the manufacturing of renewable energy component parts and power plants themselves, to construction, installation, maintenance, and operation of these cleaner energy systems, our state stands to gain from smart policies and strategic investments that build a clean energy economy right here in Ohio," she said. 

Antonio also addressed Kasich's recent statements supportive of clean energy on the presidential campaign trail at a New Hampshire town hall, saying they were "too little, too late in some ways." She said he already decided to "move Ohio backwards" on the issue. 

Kasich's comments, however, have been praised by both the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). He was quoted in media reports as saying, “In Ohio, we are going to have development of solar and wind. And if the Legislature wants to gut it, I’m going to go back to the goal we had -- which was unpalatable -- because I’m not playing around with this." 

Ohio Coal Association President Christian Palich released statements denouncing both the CPP and the idea of clean energy mandates.

"The Clean Power Plan is an illegal federal overreach, designed to promote the Obama administration's radical anti-coal agenda, not protect the environment or reduce health risks. Ohio families will be faced with a less reliable and more costly energy sector if this plan is implemented, which is why Gov. Kasich and Attorney General [Mike] DeWine have opposed it since day one. It is also worth noting that the Ohio House is currently moving HCR29 [Hill], opposing this rule," Palich said. "In these uncertain times, with the Obama administration’s radically irresponsible energy agenda, Ohio benefits from not having state government pick winners and losers." 

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce also weighed in on the issue on Thursday.

"We call on the Legislature to quickly pass legislation that continues the freeze on costly energy mandates," said Charles Willoughby, the organization's director of energy and environmental policy. "This is one area where immediate action is needed."

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