Catholics, other faiths speak out on Ohio's clean-energy stifling bill

“Nature bats last, and right now nature is batting really hard” is a phrase that continually reverberates for Charity Sr. Paula Gonzalez -- often in relation to climate change, but lately due to an Ohio legislative push against clean energy measures.

The 81-year old Cincinnati sister repeated the observation in regard to Senate Bill 310, legislation passed by that chamber May 8 that would place a two-year freeze on the Buckeye State’s clean energy standards. The House Public Utilities Committee delayed a vote Wednesday on the bill until next week.

“It’s tragic,” said Gonzalez, who in 1991 founded EarthConnection -- an energy-efficient ecological teaching center. “Ohio has had one of the best clean energy proposals in the country, and during the next two decades there could be many jobs available in renewable energy.”

The state’s clean energy sector provides 25,000 jobs, and has saved consumers more than $1 billion in utility costs, noted Dick Munson, director of Midwest Clean Energy for the Environmental Defense Fund, in an op-ed piece in Forbes magazine. He also said the standards have received backing from several of the state’s largest companies, including Honda and Whirlpool, and the Ohio Manufacturers Association.

Introduced by a group of six Republican senators, including Senate President Keith Faber, SB 310 would idle the state’s clean energy standards, lift requirements that half of renewable energy be generated in-state, and order a 13-member committee to evaluate their usefulness.

Enacted in 2008, the standards mandated that a quarter of the state’s electricity supply come from alternative energy sources by 2025, with at least half from renewable and solar sources. The legislation outlined a gradual ladder to achieve that goal, increasing a percentage point each year from 2014 to 2025.

If SB 310 passes, the required renewable portfolio would hold at 2014 levels (2.5 percent) until 2017, at which point it would scale up to the forecasted 2015 benchmarks (3.5 percent), rather than the 5.5 percent originally outlined. It would also push back achieving the 12.5-percent goal until 2027.

The Ohio Sierra Club chapter predicted that the bill would add $150 to consumers’ electric bills, while at the same time, allowing Ohio utilities to see millions in increased revenues from burning fossil fuels, at clean energy’s expense.

The Ohio legislation comes as part of a concerted campaign to roll back similar green laws in 18 states, The Washington Post reported in April. According to the article, the effort is “prodded by industry and advocacy groups eager to curtail regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gases,” including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Koch brothers.

Evidence suggests that the standards have so far worked in reducing pollution. Trish Demeter, managing director of the energy and clean air program of the Ohio Environmental Council, told NCR that the council found in 2013 the standards helped reduce greenhouse gases by more than a million tons, and smog-forming nitrogen oxides by more than 940 tons. Increased focus on renewable sources could see those cuts grow more.

Religious voices have also spoken out on SB 310. On Wednesday, a coalition of religious leaders called for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to veto the bill should it arrive at his desk. The group included Sr. Leanne Jablonski, director of the Marianist Environmental Education Center in Dayton. 

In a two-page reflection, the Ohio Catholic bishops voiced their support of alternative energy and conservation efforts with an aim toward calls to care for God’s creation.

“We are not advocating for specific benchmarks for alternative energy sources and incentives. However, we encourage the Ohio General Assembly to pursue reasonable and effective initiatives for energy efficiency and to develop alternate renewable and clean-energy resources,” the bishops said.

While supporting a study of the energy mandates, they asked state legislators “to prayerfully consider if it would be more prudent” to not enact a freeze while a study occurs.

An accompanying letter from the Catholic Conference of Ohio noted that the current energy portfolio standards have led to improved energy efficiency in churches and individual homes.

Lutheran leaders have also spoken out, including Rev. Rick Barger, president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, and the Rev. Marcus Lorhmann, bishop of the northwestern Ohio synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Both wrote in April to Senate president Faber, a fellow Lutheran, asking him to abandon the bill.

A third Lutheran, the Rev. Lisa Dahill, an associate professor at Trinity Seminary, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the current fossil-fuel based economy has made humans “un-creators of God’s original creation.”

“We are quite clearly enacting on a global scale what Judas did in the New Testament, namely sacrificing the life of the world for 30 pieces of silver, for a very short term economic gain,” she said. 

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