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Environmental Groups Voice Hope For Green Legislation

Environmental advocates are weighing in on what they’d like to see accomplished at the Statehouse this year. It starts with supporting green energy.  Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Ask any of the state’s top environmental groups and they’ll tell you that one of their top priorities for 2015 is to undo something that happened in 2014.

Last year the Legislature froze the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. These were benchmarks that utilities were required to meet year-by-year to implement more green energy.

The two year freeze on the standards was a major blow to environmental advocates, such as Environment Ohio’s Nate Lotze, who says the policies went a long way in curbing the impacts of climate change.

“Investment in green energy pays off and it’s worth it because in the long run it’s going to be saving taxpayers money but in the short-term it’s helping us transition to an energy system that doesn’t rely on dirty fossil fuels,” said Lotze.

Resurrecting the standards could happen in two ways. The Legislature could repeal last year’s freeze. But since a panel of lawmakers appointed to study the standards has been meeting for a few months, that’s unlikely. Or—if lawmakers do nothing—the standards automatically start back up again in 2017.

However, advocates contend that because of other changes that were made, the standards still won’t be as strong.

Jack Shaner with the Ohio Environmental Council claims that the standards—which were created in 2008—added a huge boost in green energy investment in the state which led to a spike in job growth. But even with that, Shaner says bringing them back will still be an uphill battle.

“If people would really look at the data—the facts and the figures—this is a winner. The jury is in with its verdict and the verdict is that clean energy standards worked,” Shaner said.

On the state’s to-do list for this year is to come up with a plan that complies with new federal EPA standards on power plants. The Sierra Club’s Brian Kunkemoeller says bringing back the standards would help.

Also a big priority for the environmental groups is to crack down on nutrients flowing off of farm fields and into public waterways—which is a major contributor to harmful algae growth, such as the toxic algae found in Toledo that forced nearly half a million people to stop drinking the public water.

Kunkemoeller says that the call for stronger regulations includes banning the use of manure on frozen or rain-saturated land.

“It’s tough. They’re in a tough spot having to stand up to the agriculture industry and say ‘here’s something that you can’t do’ it sounds like tough regulation but when you’re starting to have problems like hundreds of thousands of people are being exposed to toxic algae in their drinking water supply—it’s time for real leadership in the Statehouse,” Kunkemoeller explained.

House Republicans, who hold a record majority in the chamber, say dealing with the water quality issue is one of their top priorities—a pillar in their agenda.

All three groups agree that improving green transportation is another major issue to take on this year. For Environment Ohio—that includes incentivizing the use of electric vehicles which the group says goes a long way in reducing the carbon foot print.

Shaner with the Ohio Environmental Council says the state seems primed to make a big move on enhancing public transportation. The Ohio Department of Transportation released a report noting the need to advance that area.

Shaner says that would be a win for the state on several levels.

“These are policies that can—yes—help the environment. They can also help our economy and make Ohio the kind of place that young people come to—businesses want to invest—and people want to spend a weekend having fun,” said Shaner.

The Sierra Club and Ohio Environmental Council also call for more regulations on hydraulic fracturing—the process of extracting natural gas from shale—also known as fracking, while Environment Ohio continues its stance for an outright moratorium.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has said he supports more regulations on fracking, but it’s unknown if he’ll put any into his budget.

The three groups all say the next step in achieving their goals is to take a close look at that budget plan and determine where they’d each want to go from there. That proposal is expected to be released next week.

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