Ohio Gov. John Kasich is the newest entrant to the crowded Republican field for 2016, and his supporters are trying to steer the conversation towards his economic bona fides.
But Kasich’s record on the economy has one major flaw: In 2014 he signed a bill freezing a successful clean energy program. Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) had created 25,000 jobs and spurred at least $1 billion in private sector investment.
Kasich disagreed that the RPS had economic benefits. “The well-intentioned strategy developed in 2008 to encourage alternative energy generation mandated levels which are now emerging as a challenge to job creation and Ohio’s economic recovery. They are simply unrealistic and will drive up energy costs for job creators and consumers,” Kasich said in a statement at the time.
In fact, in less than six years, Ohio’s RPS saved consumers roughly $230 million and dropped electricity rates by almost a percent and a half. The efficiency measures that were also frozen had saved ratepayers $1 billion, according to utility company filings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the policies were supported by 70 percent of Ohioans.
The reasoning behind the freeze — ostensibly billed as a chance to evaluate the costs and benefits of supporting renewable energy and efficiency — is unclear. But the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been tied to anti-RPS efforts in Ohio as well as several other states.
And it’s unclear how balanced the evaluation process will be. On Monday, the state committee responsible for reviewing the policy heard testimony from the Buckeye Institute’s Greg Lawson and Ryan Yonk from Utah State University, both of whom have been tied to anti-renewable policies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“Utah State has already been called out for making misleading statements about wind energy, not mention both Yonk and the University’s deep ties with the fossil fuel industry and the Koch brothers. Buckeye Institute suffers from similar questionable motives,” wrote Samantha Williams of the NRDC. The panel is likely to at least lower the RPS’ goals.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, two-thirds of Ohio’s electricity came from coal in 2014. Natural gas accounted for 18 percent, and nuclear energy provided 12 percent. Coal is a leading contributor to carbon emissions, and curbing carbon from the power sector is seen as critical to avoiding some of the worst effects of climate change.
Under the Clean Power Plan, a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that seeks to limit emissions from the electricity sector, Ohio will likely have to reduce carbon dioxide air emissions by 29 percent from 2012 levels. Under Kasich, Ohio joined a failed lawsuit to challenge the EPA’s proposed rule. It’s expected that when the rule is finalized next month, many of the states that joined the lawsuit will sue again.
And according to attorneys familiar with the plan, the next president may have the option of directing the EPA to not enforce the rule. In any case, the next president will also play a key role in holding the United States to any commitments that come out of the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Paris.
Unlike many of the other Republican candidates, Kasich does, in fact, recognize that climate change is occurring, and he believes we are stewards of our environment. But how we go about protecting the environment — or, rather, protecting ourselves from the most catastrophic effects of anthropogenic climate change — is another matter.
“At the end of the day, if we can find these breakthroughs to help us have a cleaner environment, I’m all for it,” Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch in 2012, two years before he signed the RPS freeze.
Kasich, raised a Catholic, has also said he doesn’t agree with all of the Pope’s recent encyclical on the climate, which called for greater action.
“The environment was given to us by the lord and it needs to be taken care of. It shouldn’t be worshiped, that is called pantheism. The pope pointing out the fact that we need to take care of the environment, that is good, I don’t agree with his conclusion that all of it is bad because of free enterprise,” Kasich said at the time.