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Ohio Lawmakers Want a Say on the State's Implementation of a Clean-Energy Plan

photo of Sammis power plant
Located on the Ohio River near East Liverpool, the Sammis power plant is one of Ohio's largest coal-fired plants.

  The federal government put a plan in motion to drastically cut down on carbon emissions from coal-power plants. But as Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, lawmakers want to make sure they have a definitive say on how Ohio implements that plan.

Coal has long been a huge industry in Ohio and still is. It makes up more than 65 percent of the state’s energy generation and more than 3,100 people are directly employed by the industry. That’s according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Ohio Coal Association.

That’s why many policymakers in Ohio -- Republicans and Democrats -- are worried about the U.S. EPA’s new plan to cut carbon emissions. This is a plan that directly impacts coal plants by most likely scaling down their production.

photo of Rep. Tim Ginter
Rep. Tim Ginter (R) speaking on the floor of the Ohio House

Republican Rep. Tim Ginter represents a portion of Ohio’s coal country in Columbiana County. He’s introduced a bill that would require the General Assembly to put its stamp of approval on the state’s plan to implement the federal regulations.

Ginter says this will create an open line of communication between Ohioans and their state government.

“Those individuals who have questions about what is proposed can certainly contact their representatives . And then we of course can voice our constituents concerns or their approval,” says Ginter.

Federal guidelines
The U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan laid out a list of guidelines for states to follow. It is up to each individual state to put out a plan to comply with those guidelines.

According to Ginter, he’s most concerned with the pace of the regulations. He says the industry is seeing too much regulation, too fast. “And quite frankly, they see it as an effort to put them out of business and to make it so expensive or onerous that there’s no way they can survive. And so that’s the communication that I have received from those that have been working directly in the coal industry.”

The General Assembly is just the latest arm of Ohio’s government to chime in.  Ohio’s EPA Director Craig Butler has come out against the plan and Attorney General Mike DeWine has joined other states in a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming the U.S. EPA is overstepping its authority.

New standards seen as crucial
But there are several environmental groups that say these new emission standards are crucial, not just for the health of the environment but for everyone who lives around the power plants who breathe in the polluted air.

photo of Samantha Williams
Credit NRDC
Samantha Williams is the NRDC's energy policy lead for Ohio and Minnesota.

Samantha Williams with the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, says the General Assembly’s rulemaking panel, known as JCARR, is already required to approve the plan. So, according to Williams, this bill for a full Legislature vote just adds an unnecessary hurdle.

“When you add this additional layer of red tape the bill would require it’s really redundant and it’s having the committee review something that would ultimately, very possibly, put the state plan into legislative purgatory,” according to Williams.

There’s a deadline for Ohio’s plan. If it fails to meet that deadline -- the federal government will step in with its own strategy to reduce carbon emissions.

Williams says that would be bad for everyone involved.  

“The best possible outcome here is for Ohio to have control over the plan itself and to use its own internal expertise, (for) the experts in the state of Ohio to take advantage of Ohio’s current energy landscape. And that includes the diversity of energy resources that Ohio already has at its fingertips and develop a plan that’s best for the state.”

The approaching deadline
The deadline for a rough draft is next September. If Ohio’s plan satisfies the U.S. EPA’s initial guidelines then it will have another two years for an all-out blueprint.

While the Ohio EPA does not like the Clean Power Plan, it must still move forward with a way to comply. A spokesperson for the agency says it has significant concerns about this House bill because it could impact its ability to meet the federal standards. 

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.