Critics take aim at Kasich energy plan

Ohio governor backs Keystone, calls for freeze on new regulations.

But critics are taking aim at it for increasing pollution and the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

In an economic speech last month in New Hampshire, the Ohio governor outlined an aggressive approach likely to resonate with American industry, including abandoning a plan by the Obama administration that would force electrical utility plants to slash their carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

In addition, Kasich called for a one-year freeze on new federal regulations, including those which impact the environment, while insisting federal agencies conduct an analysis on whether the financial costs of future rules imposed on industries would outweigh the environmental benefits.

He backs construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Obama rejected on Friday, and he would press to open up oil and gas exploration on millions of acres of federal land, although he would exclude drilling in national parks.

Kasich aides said the governor’s approach was aimed more at jolting economic growth.

“The energy policy is not a stand-alone idea; nor is the regulatory policy,” said Scott Milburn, a senior campaign adviser. “They are subsets which work together with his overall economic policy.”

“He rolled out his economic plan in a comprehensive way to reflect reality that you don’t move the economy with just tax cuts or a balanced budget,” Milburn said. “It is far more complex and challenging issue than that. It takes good tax policy, sound fiscal policy, good regulatory policy, you have to shrink the size of the government — all of these things and others intertwine to move the economy forward.”

‘Big oil’ wish list?

Environmentalists warn that the Ohio governor’s proposals will do nothing to combat global warming.

“John Kasich is a moderate in tone, but not in policy,” said Dan Weiss, senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters in Washington.

“His plan is a big oil wish list that would increase carbon pollution and other pollution, ignores the biggest environmental threat to Ohio and the rest of the country and would increase our dependence on oil,” Weiss said.

Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington-based Clean Air Watch, called Kasich’s plan “a mishmash of recycled ideas and focus-group slogans,” adding the clean air laws are “based on the philosophy all Americans deserve to breathe clean air. Kasich would turn that into that Americans should breathe clean air that economists say is affordable at the moment.”

That Kasich would choose energy expansion at the possible expense of the environment is not surprising, given his past voting record and the party’s sharp criticism of environmental regulations and legislation.

As a member of Congress in 1990, Kasich was one of 25 House members to vote against the 1990 Clean Air Act, which required coal-fired utility plants to sharply reduce the emissions of sulfur dioxide which caused acid rain in the northeast.

Even though Republican presidents signed the 1970 and 1990 Clean Air Acts and created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, today’s Republicans have veered in a more conservative direction, harshly critical of the EPA and some even doubting the science of climate change.

“The environment should not be a partisan issue,” O’Donnell said. “One of the problems with the intense partisanship is it gets into the way of effective solutions and unfortunately with what Kasich has done here he has not advanced the cause of bipartisan problem solving.”

Promoting coal

Ohio’s energy needs rely heavily on coal, which gets a boost from Kasich’s energy plan.

If elected president, he would push for greater production of energy from oil, gas, nuclear, coal and renewables, including exploration on federal lands.

“The bottom line is we need to dig coal, clean coal and burn coal,” said Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association. “He has definitely promoted coal as a resource in this state.”

Yet with clean coal technology not yet economically viable, burning more coal will produce greater emissions of carbon dioxide. The U.S. EPA calculated electricity produced from coal, natural gas and oil accounted for 37 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in 2013.

“What’s his plan?” asked David Scott of Columbus, past president of the Sierra Club. “Burn more fossil fuels? Open Keystone? Attack clean air and water protections?”

“His record is abysmal,” Scott said. “John Kasich has consistently done whatever his major industry donors have asked him to do.”

But Nick Akins, chief executive officer of American Electric Power, hailed Kasich’s plan as a “true ‘all of the above’ strategy” with a “focus on keeping energy affordable and reliable.”

“There has to be a sense of balance there,” he said. “We have to be responsible from the environmental perspective. The question is at what pace can changes can be made that allows families to be secure in their budget.”

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