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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. 

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

Alternative Fuel Bill Introduced in Senate

An alternative fuel bill has been introduced into the Ohio Senate as SB 267 by Sen. Bill Seitz and Sen. Bob Peterson.  The bill is identical to HB 176 which has passed both the House Ways and Means and Finance Committees and awaits a floor vote by the full House of Representatives.

Like HB 176the bill would enact the Gaseous Fuel Vehicle Conversion Program, allow a credit against the income or commercial activity tax for the purchase or conversion of an alternative fuel vehicle, reduce the amount of sales tax due on the purchase or lease of a qualifying electric vehicle by up to $500, apply the motor fuel tax to the distribution or sale of propane and compressed natural gas, authorize a temporary, partial motor fuel tax exemption for sales of propane and compressed natural gas used as motor fuel, and make an appropriation to fund the program.

OPGA has offered testimony on behalf of HB 176.

Thrifty Propane Accused of Serial CSPA Violations

The Ohio Attorney General is accusing Thrifty Propane of violating the Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA) despite company claims of “fair pricing” and a market-leading supply network. The state is seeking $25,000 in civil penalties for each individual case of missing or untimely deliveries and substandard customer service by Medina-based Thrifty Propane, Inc.

The company, which also operates as Thrifty Propane Northern Ohio Inc. and Thrifty Propane Columbus Ohio Inc., makes broad claims at its website that the grade, pricing and reliability of its propane supplies are superior to that of other operators.

“Thrifty Propane has paid attention to the market every year, and has carefully planned its supply every winter. ... When you purchase your propane from Thrifty Propane you benefit from our constant vigilance that keeps supplies steady and propane prices down,” it says, blaming price pressures on the horizontal drilling boom.

“The market changed for good this past heating season, never to be the same again. It changed because of ‘fracking,’ which has created an export bonanza, so that all the propane is leaving the U.S. by ship, at rates that always go up,” according to Thrifty, whose operations have spread beyond Ohio. “The owners of pipelines will have less and less reason to supply American customers, since they will make so much more money abroad.”

In a lawsuit filed in Medina County Common Pleas Court Wednesday, the state challenges a number of those claims.

“Defendants committed unfair and deceptive acts or practices in connection with consumer transactions in violation of the CSPA, R.C. 1345.02(B)(2), by representing that their propane sales and services are of a particular standard, quality, grade, style, prescription or model, when they were not,” Attorney General Mike DeWine says.

His office says in the last eight months alone, the attorney general has received at least 38 complaints against the company. Previous calls to the AG and local Better Business Bureaus go back several years. Currently, propane is not regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). (See The Hannah Report, 10/9/14.)

“Many Ohio families rely on propane to heat their homes, and they rightly expect to receive the propane they pay for,” DeWine said in a separate statement. “In this case, we found a pattern of people who didn’t receive what they were promised. We are filing this action to protect consumers.”

DeWine is seeking a halt to Thrifty’s business until all judgments against the company have been paid.

New Program Includes OPGA

State Begins Credentialing Private Emergency Personnel

The state of Ohio has implemented a program making it easier for some private organizations to help out during a natural or man-made disaster.

"For the first time in Ohio, a secure credentialing system is available at no cost for Ohio Public Private Partnership (OP3) organizations to utilize while assisting communities in an emergency," the Ohio Department of Public Safety (ODPS) said in a news release.

Ohio Homeland Security (OHS), a division of ODPS, began issuing emergency personnel credentials on Jan. 1, 2016 through the Emergency Partner Credentialing System (EPCS). EPCS credential holders are vetted through OHS to aid private-sector organizations with appropriate access to emergency areas to deliver critically needed stockpile supplies, resources and medication. 

ODPS Public Information Officer Dustyn Fox says that this new system will save time for businesses and law enforcement when civilian emergency responders are trying to access a restricted area. 

"In the past, if you wanted to pass through, local law enforcement might ask for a business ID or something. Then they would have to call back to confirm they are supposed to be there," Fox said. "But this can be sent electronically to your mobile device. They can pull it out to show they have a reason to bring supplies, medicine, propane, fuel. … It cuts down the time."

Fox noted that law enforcement can verify the credential by entering a unique number into the Law Enforcement Automated Data System (LEADS). 

"I am pleased that this nationally-unique system gives our private-sector partners the empowerment to do what they do best when emergencies hit Ohio communities," ODPS Director John Born said in a statement. "It is also reassuring that emergency responders can be confident that these pre-screened credentials can be verified by local on-scene authorities."

Fox said while other states have a similar program, Ohio's is unique in that OP3 members can participate free of charge and that law enforcement can verify the credential. 

Two types of credentials will be authorized through EPCS:

- Emergency-Specific Credentials, which allow personnel access to a specific disastrous or emergency event, and will not carry over into disaster relief for other catastrophic events. Fox said this will be the more common credential, and that it will be good for seven days or as long as the situation lasts.

- Multi-Emergency Credentials, which allow an employee access to regular statewide emergency relief initiatives. Fox said this is good for a six-month period, and is designed for an emergency services team that responds to multiple events at one time or works across the state throughout the year. He said it would be approved by the OHS director and could be subject to final approval by the ODPS director. 

Fox said those in the following 16 critical infrastructure sectors as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be eligible for the credentials: chemical, communications, dams, commercial facilities, critical manufacturing, defense industrial base, emergency services, energy, financial services, food and agriculture, government facilities, health care and public health, information technology, nuclear, transportation systems and water and wastewater systems. 

Fox said OHS will also partner with all Ohio county sheriffs so that these credentials will be available to assist essential personnel during winter weather emergencies in reporting for vital job functions in select critical infrastructure sectors, including health care, water/wastewater, energy and chemical, transportation and communications. He said this will make it easier for emergency personnel to drive during a level three snow emergency, for example. 

EPCS does not supersede the authority of local officials to restrict access to areas affected by an emergency that are unsafe or have not yet stabilized, ODPS noted. Local authorities reserve the right to deny access to any individual to a restricted area, with or without EPCS credentials.

Fox said OP3 members are already members of the ODPS Communication and Information Management System (CIMS). He said an organization needs a valid CIMS account to participate. 

The most recently updated list of OP3 members which includes the Ohio Propane Gas Association (OPGA) is available at https://homelandsecurity.ohio.gov/op3_files/op3-member-list-12-1-15.pdf .

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