Unnoticed Fossil Fuel Influence Could Soon Dismantle Ohio's Clean Energy Policies

STUDY: Local Papers Continue To Miss ALEC Influence In Clean Energy Debate

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

Ohio may soon become the first state to freeze its clean energy mandates after a relentless effort from utilities. But the state's major newspapers continue to overlook that the legislators behind the bill are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council -- an organization that connects corporations, including fossil fuel interests, to legislators -- despite repeatedly quoting the organization's members.

ALEC

Bill That Would Freeze Ohio Clean Energy Standards Is Moving Forward

Senate Bill 310 Would Freeze Clean Energy Mandates For Two Years. The Ohio Senate passed a bill (SB 310) on May 8, which would freeze the state's renewable energy and energy efficiency policies for two years, during which time the standards will be "studied" by a "special committee." Legislators slightly altered the original bill, which would have frozen the standards indefinitely. Critics charge that the bill has leading language, which suggests that the study will lead to a reduction in clean energy mandates. The current clean energy policies at risk, enacted in 2008, mandate that the state's utilities source 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable energy and achieve 22 percent in savings from energy efficiency projects by 2025. [The Columbus Dispatch, 5/14/14; Midwest Energy News, 5/7/14; Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, updated 11/8/12]

Last-Minute Changes Further Watered Down Clean Energy Standards. The bill saw significant changes just hours before heading to a 1 a.m. floor vote. According to The Columbus Dispatch, the new provisions will make things easier for utilities, expanding the types of projects that count towards the energy-efficiency standards and removing the requirement that utilities have to buy half of their renewable energy from Ohio sources. The Dispatch writes that the "standards would be much easier to meet for utilities, opponents of the bill said, leading to a sudden drop in demand for the goods and services related to renewable energy and energy efficiency in Ohio." [The Columbus Dispatch, 5/14/14]

Critics: The Changes "Essentially Gut" The Standards. In response to the last-minute changes made to SB 310, supporters of clean energy said the bill will result in more costly electricity and water down the standards to where they are no longer effective:

"They essentially gutted the standards, so that when they do come back they'll be essentially meaningless," says Ted Ford, president of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

[...]

More high-priced electricity

SB 310 would also reduce the amount of downward pressure that energy efficiency puts on Ohio's wholesale electricity costs.

[...]

A potential 'boondoggle'         

Many new things that SB 310 would count as energy efficiency are "already going to be done anyway," says Ford. "You've watered this thing down to the point where it is meaningless."

For example, utilities could count upgrades to transmission and distribution, even though such projects don't directly affect customer demand or save consumers money. [Midwest Energy News, 5/15/14]

Bill Is Is Now Being Sent To The House For A Vote. According to The Columbus Dispatch, House Republican leaders have said there could be a floor vote "as soon as next week." Gov. John Kasich has stated support of the revised bill. [The Columbus Dispatch, 5/14/14; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/12/14]

Ohio Papers Continue To Miss ALEC's Heavy Influence

Ohio's Top Papers Did Not Mention ALEC Once In Reporting On Clean Energy Battle Since Latest Attack. The major state newspapers in Ohio devoted a total of 32 articles, op-eds, and editorials to the developments of the anti-clean energy legislation since April 7: The Columbus Dispatch and the Cleveland Plain Dealer each devoted 12 news and opinion articles to the legislation, Akron Beacon Journal devoted five, and Cincinnati Enquirer devoted three articles. Dayton Daily News, which was included in our study, did not report on the bill.  None of the papers studied contained a mention of an influencing factor: the American Legislative Exchange Council. The papers are continuing their trend of omission: a previous Media Matters analysis found that coverage of SB 310 has not mentioned ALEC since the bill was first introduced in March.

Ohio Papers Clean Energy Coverage[Media Matters, 4/8/14]

Yet Almost Half Of All People Who These Newspapers Quoted Or Mentioned Are Affiliated With ALEC. Of the 90 people quoted or mentioned in coverage of SB 310, 42 of those are affiliated with ALEC, or almost half:

Ohio Coverage ALEC quoted

ALEC Legislators At Forefront Of The Attack

American Legislative Exchange Council Connects Fossil Fuel Interests To Legislators. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), connects corporations to legislators that work together to draft model legislation, promoting "limited government, free markets, and federalism at the state level." Their "Private Enterprise Advisory Council" includes fossil energy powerhouses such as Koch Industries, Energy Future Holdings, Peabody Energy, and ExxonMobil. [ALEC.org, accessed 5/15/14; ALEC.org, accessed 5/15/14]

ALEC Coordinated A Nationwide Attack On Renewable Standards In 2013. In 2013, ALEC attempted to push through at least 37 bills attempting to dismantle or weaken state-wide renewable energy standards across the country. As reported in the Huffington Post:

Perhaps the most influential opponent is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and corporate interests to develop model legislation. In October 2012, ALEC's board of directors adopted a model bill that the Heartland Institute wrote, called the Electricity Freedom Act. The bill describes RPS as "essentially a tax on consumers of electricity that forces the use of renewable energy sources beyond what would be called for by real market forces" and calls for their repeal. ALEC's list of advisers includes representatives of a number of energy companies that stand to lose money as renewables gain a bigger share of the market, including Peabody Energy, Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil. [Huffington Post, 11/1/13]

Current Bill, Though Watered Down, Has Roots In ALEC Model Legislation.  ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force promotes "free-market environmentalism," and has published a list of model policies, including the "Electricity Freedom Act," which "repeals a state's requirement that electric distribution utilities and electric services companies provide a certain percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by a certain year." The current legislation in Ohio (SB 310) would freeze the renewable energy and efficiency standards to 2014 levels -- approximately one-fifth of their 2025 goals. [ALEC.org, accessed 4/7/14; ALEC.org, 2014; Midwest Energy News, 5/15/14]

Advocates Of SB 310 Are Directly Connected To ALEC. The Ohio legislators most prominently pushing this bill and other anti-clean energy efforts are directly connected to ALEC:

  • Governor Kasich, who has stated support of the revised bill and is expected to sign it if it passes the House, is characterized as someone who "helped mold ALEC in its formative years," according to ALEC's internal talking points, and is listed on ALEC's website as someone the organization relied on "heavily" for "expert testimony." Kasich's spokesman has stated that he discontinued his involvement in ALEC after leaving the legislature. But People for the American Way notes that he was photographed at an ALEC meeting in 2010 after being elected as Governor, long after his time in the legislature. [People for the American Way, 3/6/12; ALEC.org, accessed 5/15/14]
  • Sen. Bill Seitz, who heads the Senate Public Utilities Committee and is the lead sponsor of the bill -- and its loudest advocate -- is a Board Member of ALEC. [ALEC.org, accessed 4/7/14]
  • Sen. Keith Faber, the Senate President who reportedly was also "involved in the bill's process but [didn't] plan to introduce it himself," is a member of ALEC, according to a 2012 report by People for the American Way. [Columbia Business Journal, 3/24/14; People for the American Way, 3/6/12]
  • Sen. Troy Balderson, the bill's author, took a committee appointment with ALEC's Natural Resources task force in 2011. [Ohio Legislative Information Systems, accessed 4/7/14; ALECExposed.org, accessed 4/7/14]
  • Sen. Frank LaRose, who led the proposed changes to the energy bill, is a member of ALEC according to a 2012 report by People for the American Way. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/5/14; People for the American Way, 3/6/12]
  • Rep. William G. Batchelder, Speaker of the Ohio House, who has stated that he strongly supports the bill and "wants to pass it before the summer recess," is a member of ALEC, according to a 2012 report by People for the American Way. [The Columbus Dispatch, 5/9/14; People for the American Way, 3/6/12]
  • As of January 2012, ALEC members comprised approximately 43 percent of the Ohio legislature. [People for the American Way, accessed 4/7/14]

A Majority Of Those Who Voted "Yes" On SB 310 Are Affiliated With ALEC. The bill passed the Ohio Senate in a 21-12 vote. Of the 21 Senators who voted "yes," 15 are members of ALEC according to a 2012 report by People for the American Way. None of the Senators who voted "no" have ties to ALEC. [Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/12/14; People for the American Way, 3/6/12]

Clean Energy Attack Rooted In Misinformation

Misleading Poll From Republican Firm Claims Ohioans Support The Freeze. Many polls have found that a majority of Ohio citizens support the state's clean energy policies, but a recent poll commissioned by a coalition of utilities and businesses known as Ohioans for Sustainable Jobs found otherwise by asking leading questions. The group includes the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Energy Group, Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, and others, and it commissioned a leading Republican research firm to carry out the study. Columbus Business First reported on one such question that included only criticism of the existing legislation and no praise:  

One question in the poll reads: "Six years ago, when the Ohio legislature passed the law mandating reductions in electricity consumed, certain assumptions were used to justify the law, many of which were wrong. For example, legislators assumed electricity would be in short supply and new electric generation would be expensive. But today, there's ample low-cost electricity and will be for years to come. Knowing this ... should the Ohio state legislature, taking into account the new information, go back and change the law?

Seventy-two percent of respondents said yes, 13 percent were unsure and 15 percent said no. [Columbus Business First, 4/28/14]

The Columbus Dispatch reported on another leading question that claimed that the bill is costing ratepayers, when in fact reports have found that it saves consumers through energy efficiency efforts:

[Ted Ford, president and CEO of Ohio Advanced Energy Economy] thinks this new poll nudges respondents to focus on the costs of programs and not the benefits.

One of the questions asks, for example: "This year, Ohio's residential electricity customers will each pay about $45 per year on their bills to pay for the state mandated energy efficiency programs. Estimates say that the programs may cost customers as much as $227 per year by 2025. Knowing this: Do you agree or disagree that the government should mandate reductions in electricity use by Ohio's residential and businesses users?"

Sixty-eight percent of respondents answered "disagree." [The Columbus Dispatch, 4/19/14]

But Multiple Polls Show Overwhelming Support For Ohio's Clean Policies. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a study on how Ohio citizens view climate change and policies taken to address it, and found that a large majority support action on climate change, with over half specifically supporting a renewable energy portfolio "even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year." And a more recent study commissioned by Ohio Advanced Energy Economy (OAEE) found that 86 percent of Ohio voters support the state's energy efficiency programs. [Ohio Legislative Information Systems, accessed 4/4/14; Yale Project on Climate Communication, September 2013; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 4/16/14]

And A Report Shows That Mandates Have Already Saved Consumers Money. A report commissioned by Advanced Energy Economy Ohio Institute (AEEO) and carried out by Ohio State University's The Center for Resilience modeled what Ohio's energy demand, costs, and emissions would have been if the standards were not enacted in 2008. They found that Senate Bill 221 (SB 221)  has saved consumers 1.4 percent on their electricity bills, as efficiency tactics have reduced overall energy demand:

If SB 221 had not been implemented, we estimate that Ohio's statewide energy demand, electricity costs and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would all have been about 2% higher by 2012. Despite a slight increase in generation costs, SB 221 resulted in a 1.4% reduction in Ohio electricity bills. In addition, increased investments in the energy sector stimulated GDP by $160 million in 2012, and created over 3,200 Ohio jobs in the period from 2008 to 2012.  [AEEO, 9/25/13]

METHODOLOGY: We performed a Nexis search for "renewable energy" or "energy efficiency" or "energy w/3 standards" from April 7, 2014, to May 12, 2014 for The Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Dayton Daily News, and included only articles that devoted at least one paragraph to Ohio's clean energy policies, omitting letters to the editor.  The Toledo Blade, which has the fourth-highest circulation in Ohio, was not included in this study because it is not currently archived in Nexis.

Laura Santhanam contributed to this report. 

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