Legislators Trade Punches In Energy Bill Debate

May 22, 2014

The debate over Ohio’s energy standards is escalating as legislators trade accusations back-and-forth. 

Some believe the momentum of the bill is changing. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Since passing the Senate during an early morning session earlier this month, 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.

Ad: “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. We can’t let that happen.”

Republican Senator Troy Balderson of Zanesville is the sponsor of the bill. He says he respects the group’s right to oppose the legislation but urges that it’s just a two-year freeze in order to evaluate the standards’ impact on costs.

Balderson: “So to me—I’m not going to turn anything into a Rust Belt in two years’ time. The numbers are going to stay the same—we are continuing so I do disagree that we’re going to turn it into a Rust Belt—I think this is something that’s engaged enough all over—the people are going to want some answers.”

Republican Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, who has been the most vocal force behind a change to the current energy standards, has some stronger criticism for those leading the opposition.

Seitz: “The campaign against this has been the biggest campaign of deception and misinformation that I’ve ever seen in 14 years and the fervency of their cries is simply testament to the fact that they know that 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 Representative Bob Hagan of Youngstown, who’s against the measure, believes that could be a sign that opponents are slowing down the bill’s progression.

Hagan: “When you slow something down in the Legislature that does give those individuals that oppose an opportunity to gain some momentum.”

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 accuses lawmakers of pushing for the legislation to satisfy large campaign contributors, not consumers.

Hagan: “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.”

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.

Balderson: “Completely not true. It’s not about campaign contributions for me. 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 and 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 slams any accusation that links this legislation to campaign contributions.

Seitz: “Well it’s not about campaign contributions for me cause I’m term limited 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 House Speaker has said he plans to hold a vote on the bill before breaking for summer recess.