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Mother Takes Her Fight For Clean Air To The Statehouse

Joshua Lim - Scripps Fellow
Michele Timmons, Moms Clean Air Force

Advocates for clean energy usually lean on the environmental benefits. But one group says their effort is more personal.

For Michele Timmons, her fight for cleaner air and cleaner water is a family matter.

“My mother has asthma, there are four daughters in the family and three of the eight grandchildren have asthma.”

Timmons grew up in Steubenville in the 70’s. A Harvard University study said Steubenville had some of the most polluted air in the country at that time. Timmons says her loved ones are still suffering the consequences.

“And most of them have some type of significant allergy.”

The central Ohio mother, who has a 13-year-old son with asthma, is with the group, Moms Clean Air Force, advocating for state officials to bring back policies that encourage the use of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as well as those that would regulate pollution.

“We really need leadership at the state level and the Legislature and executive branch to say ‘this is a priority, we need to work with our industry and public health to come up with ways that can clean our air and our water in a way that is cost effective for everyone,” said Timmons.

The state had a law that required utilities to increase their use of renewable energy while finding ways to be more efficient. But state lawmakers froze those standards after complaints from the utilities that they were costing them and customers too much money.

Democratic Representative Nickie Antonio of Lakewood says Ohio should reinstate those standards and implement the carbon emission reduction plan laid out by the U.S. EPA, dubbed the Clean Power Plan. Along with the environmental benefits, Antonio echoed Timmons’ call that this is a public health issue.

Credit Joshua Lim - Scripps Fellow
Rep. Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood)

“Every day that a child misses school because there’s either air quality alerts or they just can’t function that day to go to school, there’s an impact on our families and our children,” Antonio said.

Opponents of Ohio’s green energy standards and the federal Clean Power Plan believe the policies give an unfair advantage to alternative energy and mess with the free market.

As a fellow asthmatic, Greg Lawson with the conservative-leaning Buckeye Institute, says he understands the message. But, as he argues, there’s no guarantee green energy-friendly laws would fix everything, noting that there are many factors in play when it comes to developing lung diseases.

“We need to be really careful that we understand all of those issues and how they interplay rather than say this is the silver bullet response that’s gonna save the world," said Lawson. There’s many, many factors.”

Lawson says many people who have asthma and severe allergies live in lower-income areas, where other components are also involved such as mold.

So, to Lawson, implementing the Clean Power Plan would be counterproductive. Since the plan will likely shut down several coal plants, Lawson says that’ll lead to higher energy prices, fewer manufacturing jobs and a hike in electric bills.

Credit Joshua Lim - Scripps Fellow
Greg Lawson, The Buckeye Institute

“So let’s unleash the market across the board, lifting people out of poverty so you’re not in those kind of situations and eventually you’re gonna see the energy landscape completely transform,” said Lawson.

Timmons says this isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue and can be resolved without partisan politics butting in.

As Gov. John Kasich continues his presidential campaign, he told a town hall in New Hampshire that he’s ready to bring back the old green energy standards if any newly drafted policies from lawmakers are too weak. As of now, if the Legislature does nothing, then the old policies will be reinstated at the beginning of next year.

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