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Ohio groups discuss potential impact of 'historic' federal climate change plan

Blue Creek Wind Farm
Iberdrola Renewables
Blue Creek Wind Farm

Environmental groups are praising the U.S. Senate vote on the Inflation Reduction Act, which they said is one of the biggest moves in American history to fight climate change.

While advocates in Ohio said it’s important for the federal government to make up for policy the state lacks, others are voicing concerns over the impact it could have on the energy market.

Congress is moving forward on a bill that would put $369 billion into the fight against climate change. That money will go towards investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency and other programs, to cut carbon emissions by 40% in just the next eight years.

Spencer Dirrig, political director for the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund, emphasizes the scope of the bill, saying climate change activists have been working for decades on this type of legislation.

“This bill has the potential to bring in a new day when it comes to the fight against the climate crisis. We have in this bill a historic cost-saving legislation that would make overdue investments in clean energy, improve energy security," said Dirrig.

The federal investments include $9 billion in consumer home energy rebate programs, $10 billion in tax credits for investments in clean technology manufacturing such as facilities that build electric vehicles, and $30 billion in tax credits that incentivize U.S. manufacturing of products like solar panels and wind turbines.

Dirrig said there are many benefits — both environmental and economic — that come with investing in clean energy.

“The economy, frankly is moving toward what will be the future of energy in this country. Renewable, clean energy will be cost effective and cost efficient for families across our state. And so having this legislation in place now to help accelerate that process will be an investment in our future,” said Dirrig.

George Brown is executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, a non-profit group for public education on Ohio’s oil and natural gas industry. While Brown’s group cannot weigh-in on specific legislation like the provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act, he said the narrative around fossil fuels in Washington, DC has created an unfair portrayal of the industry at a time when the country needs to access to multiple energy sources.

“When you're talking about whether it's fees or further regulations or just an environment that is not conductive to produce the energy that we need, that's going to restrict that production and that access to the energy that Ohioans are looking for,” said Brown.

Brown noted that the state has seen a reduction of carbon emissions from electric generation by 37% compared to 2005 levels, according to the Energy Information Administration. That is in large part due to the retirement of coal-fired power plants and Ohio's move towards other energy sources.

Along with climate change measures, the Inflation Reduction Act would also put more money towards IRS tax enforcement and implement a 15% corporate minimum tax. Brown said changes to the tax laws can also negatively impact the oil and gas industry in Ohio.

“Any proposal that, again, would either restrict the ability to produce energy or make it more costly is ultimately going to drive up energy prices. And at a time when we've seen historic energy pricing that also fuels inflation, is a big piece of rising consumer costs,” Brown said.

The potential federal investments in clean energy come three years after Ohio rolled back its own requirements for utilities to invest in renewable energy resources and eliminated energy efficiency mandates. Those standards had been in place since 2008.

The law that did all that that, HB6, also bailed out Ohio’s two nuclear power plants and set up subsidies for two coal-fired power plants. It’s now at the heart of a federal bribery investigation.

Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) had voted for the bill that created those standards in 2008. But 11 years later he voted for HB6, saying the changes to Ohio’s clean energy standards ended up saving money for ratepayers. Seitz said the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal money for renewable and clean energy sources is “obscene.”

“I'm willing to recognize renewables for the part that they can play. But I'm not willing to go in whole hog, depriving us of the fossil fuel base load capacity that even California now realizes they cannot do without,” said Seitz.

While Republicans argued that renewable energy standards cost ratepayers more money in additional fees, environmental and consumer advocates said the investments ultimately resulted in lower electric bills overall. Seitz is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would bring back some energy efficiency programs.

Dirrig said the federal climate change measures will also address the public health impacts on communities of color and low-income neighborhoods that end up disproportionately affected by air pollution.

“This will unequivocally do incredible work to alleviate a lot of the pain and suffering that has been done by emissions and pollution over decades of environmental injustice to black and brown communities and communities of color and low-income communities across our country,” said Dirrig.

Ohio’s U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, voted for the bill. He touted the legislation's climate change investments and the continued benefits from the Affordable Care Act. U.S. Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, voted no, saying the bill will not reduce inflation in the short-term and that increased taxes on businesses will result in downstream impacts on workers.

The bill is expected to get a vote in the U.S. House later this week.

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