The debate over Ohio’s energy standards is escalating as legislators trade accusations back-and-forth. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, some believe the momentum of the bill is changing course.
Since passing the Senate during an early morning session two weeks ago, the energy bill that would freeze efficiency and renewable standards is gaining more attention from different advocacy groups.
This week a faith-based coalition voiced their opposition to the bill saying it would stunt green energy development, and the green energy business coalition called Advanced Energy Economy Ohio released a TV ad in hopes of turning up the pressure on legislators.
"But now, just as our comeback is gaining steam, our state is trying to pass a law that would shut down new energy job growth and send us back to the Rust Belt," the narrator says in the ad. "We can’t let that happen.”
Republican State Sen. Troy Balderson of Zanesville is the sponsor of the bill. He said he respects the group’s right to oppose the legislation, but said that it’s just a two-year freeze in order to evaluate the standards’ impact on costs.
“I’m not going to turn anything into a Rust Belt in two years’ time," Balderson said. "The numbers are staying the same. We are continuing. So I do disagree that we’re going to turn into a Rust Belt. I think this is something that’s engaged enough all over that people are going to want some answers.”
Republican State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, who has been the most vocal force behind a change to the current energy standards, had some stronger criticism for those leading the opposition.
“The campaign against this has been the biggest campaign of deception and misinformation that I’ve seen in 14 years," Seitz said. "And the fervency of their cries is simply testament to the fact that they know this is coming and they’re resorting to hysteria in an effort to derail this bill.”
The bill was scheduled for a possible vote in a House committee this week, but that meeting was canceled.
Democratic State Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, who’s against the measure, believes that could be a sign that opponents are slowing down the bill’s progression.
“When you slow something down in the legislature, that does give those individuals that oppose an opportunity to gain some momentum," Hagan said.
As opponents and supporters go back and forth in the debate, a large portion of the argument has to do with ratepayer prices on electric bills. But Hagan accused lawmakers of pushing for the legislation to satisfy large campaign contributors, not consumers.
“Just look at the numbers and look at the lobbyists that have joined forces in giving those campaign contributions to the individuals to stall the movement towards alternative energy," he said.
A look at Balderson’s most recent campaign filing report shows that his top contributors are utilities and energy companies, with American Electric Power topping the list with a $5,000 donation.
These contributions were for the primary, and were filed nearly two months before Balderson introduced his new energy bill. Balderson adamantly denied any assertion that his bill is a political favor for campaign contributors.
“Completely not true. It’s not about campaign contributions for me," Balderson said. "This is a bill we’ve been working on for a very long time—maybe not SB310 but SB58. We’ve heard from both sides of this issue, we understand that consumers are saying something about it.”
Balderson added that he continues to hear concerns from constituents about increasing electric bills and the impact these standards may have.
Seitz also slammed any accusation that links this legislation to campaign contributions.
"It’s not about campaign contributions for me cause I’m term limited," Seitz said. "So that’s one more hysterical, ridiculous argument that is being thrown in a last ditch effort to find something that sticks on the wall.”
The spokesperson for the House Speaker said the speaker plans to hold a vote on the bill before breaking for summer recess.