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by Hannah McCartney 08.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Ethics, News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
first energy

FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers

Company overpriced renewable energy credits purchased from affiliate company

On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.

RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.

According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers. 

In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."

In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.

In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.

What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.

Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency. 

The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.

Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "
The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 05.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, News at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
power_plant_pollution

Duke Energy Tops List of Worst Utility Company Polluters

Four Ohio energy providers earn spot on Pear Energy's "Dirty Dozen"

Cincinnati's main gas and electricity provider, Duke Energy, has scored a No. 1 ranking, but it's not exactly one you'll be wanting to clap your hands about.

Remember when we blogged a couple of weeks ago about how Greater Cincinnati has some of the worst air pollution in the nation? Yep, the American Lung Association's report, "State of the Air," gave us an "F" for ozone pollution, a "D" for 24-hour particle pollution and a "fail" for year-round particle pollution. That put us at the 10th worst spot in the country for year-round particle pollution and 14th worst for ozone pollution.

Solar and wind energy provider Pear Energy, which currently operates in all 50 states, released yesterday its "Dirty Dozen" compilation, a list of the 12 utility providers emitting the greatest carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a type of greenhouse gas. CO2 emissions, of course, are the gunk released into our atmosphere when we burn fossil fuels like gas, coal or oil. Excess CO2 in our atmosphere is directly linked to global warming.

Coming from a company that wants to sell you energy itself, it's good to approach the list with a little skepticism, but the methodology seems transparent; according to the website, all rankings were determined by total CO2 emissions in 2010 of power producers with retail operations that have carbon intensities above the national average emissions rate (stats were sourced from Environmental Protection Agency data).

While Duke Energy was pinpointed as the nation's worst offender, several other Ohio energy providers also earned accolades, including American Electric Power (No. 2), NRG (No. 8) and First Energy (No. 11).

First Energy is the utility provider that in 2012 partnered with Duke Energy locally to bring Cincinnati an electric aggregation program, allegedly useful for both lowering electricity rates and increasing use of renewable energy sources with group buying power. Last month, CityBeat covered allegations that First Energy was focused on weakening energy efficiency standards under Ohio's Clean Energy Law, supposedly to protect prices from shooting up for its customers.

 
 
by German Lopez 08.22.2013
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 09:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
bill seitz

National Conservative Groups Attack State Energy Standards

State senator pushing new bill is on group’s board of directors

State Sen. Bill Seitz says he’s working on a bill that would cap how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and eliminate requirements for in-state wind and solar power. But the proposal isn’t completely unique to Ohio, which is just one of many states in which national conservative groups are working to weaken state energy standards.

Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, told Gongwer that his bill will keep requirements for utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from alternative sources and reduce customers’ consumption by 22 percent by 2025.

But the other measures will likely weaken renewable energy and efficiency standards set by Ohio’s Clean Energy Law in 2008.

The bill is presumably the result of Seitz’s review of Ohio’s energy rules, which the state senator announced earlier in the year.

FirstEnergy, an Akron-based utility company, says the review is necessary because the regulations impose too many costs. But there’s another major group involved: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Seitz is on the board of directors of ALEC, a conservative group that’s gone from state to state to push legislation that typically favors corporate interests.

Some state officials, including Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, reportedly attended ALECs 40th annual meeting in Chicago Aug. 7-9.

Just a couple weeks after that meeting, Seitz announced he still intends to rework Ohio’s energy standards.

ALEC previously teamed up with the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that gets much of its funding from oil companies, to write the standard for legislation that pulls back state energy rules. Many of the effort’s backers, particularly at the Heartland Institute, deny man-made global warming, even though scientists are 95 percent certain climate change is influenced by human actions.

ALEC’s efforts have so far failed in every state in which legislation has been proposed, as shown in this map from ThinkProgress:

But Ohio may be the first state to buck that trend if Seitz insists on pushing his review.

A report from advocacy group Environment Ohio found the current energy standards, which require Ohio utility companies get 12.5 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources, have successfully spurred clean energy projects all around the state, particularly in Cincinnati.

One local example: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 2011 installed solar panels in its parking lot that will generate enough electricity to meet 20 percent of the zoos electricity needs and reduce pollution associated with global warming by 1,775 tons annually, according to the report.

But the standards are written in a way that favors in-state sources, which was supposed to ensure that at least half of the renewable energy development spurred by the Clean Energy Law happened in Ohio. A June 2013 ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals indicated that the in-state preference is an unconstitutional violation of the Commerce Clause.

Seitz will introduce his bill in the next two weeks.

 
 
by German Lopez 12.06.2012
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Economy, News at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
solar panels

Report Pushes Solar Cincinnati

Environment Ohio touts renewable energy’s health, job benefits

A Dec. 5 report is encouraging Cincinnati to become the solar energy capital of Ohio and the broader region. The report, titled “Building a Solar Cincinnati,” was put together by Environment Ohio to show the benefits and potential of Cincinnati regarding solar power.

Christian Adams, who wrote the report along with Julian Boggs, says Cincinnati is especially poised to take charge in this renewable energy front, in contrast to the rest of the state, which gets 82 percent of its electricity from coal. Adams points to the sustainability-minded city officials and public, a “budding solar business sector” and the great business environment as the city as reasons why Cincinnati could become a pivotal leader.

With 21 public solar installations to date, the city has already seen some of the benefits of solar power. The most obvious benefit is cleaner air, which leads to better overall health and helps combat global warming. But the report points out that local solar initiatives mean local jobs. “You can’t export these jobs,” Adams says. “It’s a great opportunity for economic revitalization.”  

With solar energy comes an array of job opportunities for solar installers, solar designers, engineers, construction workers, project managers, sales associates and marketing consultants. That’s enough to create brisk job creation. The report points out “energy-related segments of the clean economy added jobs at a torrid pace over the last few years, bucking trends of the Great Recession.”

Still, there are hurdles. Although solar energy saves money in the long term, installing solar panels has a high upfront cost. The cost can make the short term too bleak for many potential customers.

To help overcome the short-term problem, the report suggests third-party financing. In these financing agreements, customers agree to give up roof space to have a solar power company install solar panels, and then customers agree to buy their power needs from the company. It’s a win for the solar power company because the panels eventually pay for themselves through new customers, and it’s a win for the customer because he sees more stable, lower energy costs and cleaner air. Adams points out that a few businesses and individuals in the area have already taken part in such  agreements with great success. 

There are also some incentives already in place to encourage solar energy. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, which was passed in 2008, pushes utility companies into the renewable energy market with Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are credits utility companies must earn to meet annual benchmarks by installing solar panels or purchasing them from third parties. Duke Energy has followed the law’s requirements by establishing its own renewable energy credit program.

Ohioans also have access to some tax breaks — the Energy Conversion Facilities Sales Tax Exemption, Air-Quality Improvement Tax Incentives and Qualified Energy Property Tax Exemptions — and loan programs — the Energy Loan Fund and Advanced Energy Fund — that encourage solar and other renewable energy sources.

Larry Falkin, director of the city’s Office of Environmental Quality (OEQ), says the report didn’t have much new information, but he’s glad it can be used to push solar energy to the broader public. He touted the benefits of job creation and reducing reliance on foreign energy sources by moving toward energy independence.

For now, the city is mostly taking the approach of leading by example. Falkin says the city is acting like a “model” for solar energy. Cincinnati added solar installations to two city facilities this year, and another will be added by the end of the month. Falkin’s office is also working together with different organizations to keep any momentum going.

Adams and Falkin both attended a Dec. 5 roundtable discussion that engaged regional officials, including solar businesses, environmental and sustainability groups, education leaders and the Cincinnati Zoo. They both said the roundtable went well.

“I think all the right people are coming together and doing the right things to try to move us forward,” Falkin says.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.11.2013
Posted In: News, Climate Change, Energy at 02:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
pollution

Report: Ohio Power Plants Among Nation’s Worst Polluters

Environment Ohio calls on regulators to limit effects on global warming

In the United States, Ohio’s power plants pollute more than all but Texas’ power plants, making Ohio one of the nation’s leading contributors to global warming, according to a Sept. 10 report from Environment Ohio.

“America’s dirtiest power plants are the elephant in the room when it comes to global warming,” said Kathryn Lee, field associate for Environment Ohio, in a statement. “If we want a cleaner, safer future for our kids, we can’t afford to ignore power plants’ overwhelming contribution to global warming. For Ohio, tackling the problem means cleaning up the dirtiest power plants.”

Power plants are responsible for 41 percent of the United States’ carbon dioxide pollution, which means they contribute more to global warming than any other source in the nation, according to the report.

“Dirty power plants produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution — especially given the relatively small share of total electricity they produce. For example, despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, the 50 dirtiest power plants only produced 16 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011,” the report found.

The report narrows down the pollution problem to specific power plants and the disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases they emit: “The dirtiest power plant in the United States, Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer, produced more than 21 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2011 — more than the total energy-related emissions of Maine.”

The report ultimately calls on regulators to encourage alternative energy sources and curtail greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Specifically, the report asks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to meet a timeline put forth by President Barack Obama for setting strict limits and regulations on how much future and existing power plants can pollute. It also calls on all levels of government to continue setting standards and incentives that encourage clean energy.

In 2008, Ohio passed its Clean Energy Law to require and incentivize Ohio companies to pursue energy portfolios that are cleaner, more efficient and more diverse.

Environment Ohio has consistently called on state legislators to strengthen the standards, with the latest report suggesting goals that would require even more clean, renewable energy sources than Ohio currently mandates.

But even the renewable energy standards that Environment Ohio deems too weak are likely to be diminished by a proposal from State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), following an aggressive lobbying effort from national conservative groups.

Seitz is a member of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has teamed up with the conservative Heartland Institute to dismantle state energy regulations. The two conservative groups deny global warming is driven by human actions, even though scientists reportedly said they’re 95 percent certain humans are contributing to global warming in a leaked report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Another report from Environment Ohio found Ohio’s standards, which require utility companies get 12.5 percent of their energy needs from renewable sources, have spurred clean energy projects in Cincinnati and the rest of the state. In 2011, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden used the state incentives to install solar panels in its parking lot that will generate enough electricity to meet 20 percent of the zoo’s electricity needs and reduce pollution associated with global warming by 1,775 tons annually, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati has taken its own actions.

“The city has been a leader in greenhouse gas reduction efforts since adopting the Green Cincinnati Plan in 2007,” said Larry Falkin, director of the Office of Environmental Quality of the City of Cincinnati, in a statement. “We have succeeded in reducing emissions by more than 8 percent through measures including energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel vehicles. What we have learned is that if you do it right, climate protection work saves more than it costs, improves public health and improves the quality of life.”

Still, some companies argue the standards impose unreasonable costs on businesses and customers. Akron-based utility company FirstEnergy previously asked for a review of Ohio’s energy efficiency standards to address the concerns, but Seitz told Gongwer that the efficiency standards will remain untouched by his legislation.

Scientists have historically called for reducing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. That wouldn’t involve immediately eliminating all carbon pollution — such a goal is widely viewed as unrealistic — but it would likely require the United States and other developed countries to cut their carbon pollution by 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, according to the IPCC’s 2007 report.

With its latest report, Environment Ohio is aiming to push the country in that direction.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.27.2014
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Ohio's Clean Energy Standards vs. Stalinism

Local state senator continues comparing energy law to Stalinism

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, continues comparing Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency law to Stalinism and other extreme Soviet-era policies.

Seitz’s latest comparison, according to Columbus’ Business First, claims Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t need “Stalinist” mandates to pursue their inventions.

“It was not some Stalinist government mandating, ‘You must buy my stuff,’” Seitz said.

It’s not the first time Seitz made the comparison. In March, he said Ohio’s Clean Energy Law reminds him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.”

Seitz, a director of the conservative, oil-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), remains unsuccessful in his years-long push to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. He says the law picks winners and losers in the energy market by favoring Ohio-based efficient, renewable sources.

Environmentalists and other supporters of the law claim it helps combat global warming and encourages economy-boosting innovations in the energy market, including the adoption of more solar power in Cincinnati.

Seitz’s references to Stalin continue the long-popular Republican tactic of comparing economic policies conservatives oppose with socialism, communism and other scary-sounding ideas.

While Seitz’s argument makes for catchy rhetoric, there are a few key differences between Stalinism and Ohio’s Clean Energy Law:

Stalinism is a framework of authoritarian, communist policies pursued in the 20th century by Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. It involves a state takeover of various aspects of private life and the economy.

The Clean Energy Law is a policy established in 2008 by the democratic state of Ohio. The law sets benchmarks requiring utility companies to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.

Stalinism pushes out private markets and replaces them with an authoritarian government’s total command.

The Clean Energy Law sets standards and regulations for existing private businesses.

Stalinism saves Ohioans no money.

The Clean Energy Law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills over the next 12 years, according to a 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

To enforce his policies, Stalin killed millions of people — a number so high that historians have trouble calculating exactly how many died under the Soviet leader’s reign.

To enforce the Clean Energy Law, Ohio officials have killed zero people.

Stalinism and other communist policies are widely considered unsustainable by economists and historians and a primary reason for the Soviet Union’s downfall.

The Clean Energy Law follows regulatory and incentive models established in various states and countries with flourishing economies, including Colorado and Sweden.

The differences are pretty clear. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law might require some refining, and there might be better solutions to global warming, such as the carbon tax. But comparisons to Stalinism go too far.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.25.2013
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

City Wins EPA Award for Clean Energy

Local green power cancels out emissions from nearly 60,000 cars

Cincinnati officials announced on Tuesday that the city had won a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of local efforts to draw down dirty energy production and replace it with clean sources.

The Cincinnati area currently produces nearly 408 million kilowatt-hours through green energy sources, which is enough to cancel out nearly 60,000 cars’ emissions and meet 14 percent of the community’s purchased electricity use, according to city officials.

“EPA is pleased to recognize the Cincinnati, Ohio community with a Green Power Community of the Year award for its leadership and citizen engagement in dramatically increasing its use of green power,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement. “We applaud Cincinnati’s residents, businesses and organizations for choosing green power that will help address climate change and support a clean energy future.”

To commemorate the award, Mayor Mark Mallory unveiled a Green Power Community sign at the Cincinnati Zoo, which installed solar panels on its parking lot in 2011 and became one of the region’s leading clean energy producers.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s project is one of the many developments that led advocacy group Environment Ohio to declare that Cincinnati could become the solar capital of the region.

Cincinnati also adopted an aggregation program in 2012, which supposedly allows residents and small businesses to get lower electricity prices through 100 percent green power.

On June 14 and again on Sept. 1, the EPA ranked the Cincinnati area No. 6 in the nation for locally purchased green power. The June ranking made Cincinnati the first Green Power Community in Ohio and surrounding states.

The city administration says Cincinnati’s successes have pushed other cities, including Cleveland and Chicago, to pursue their own clean energy efforts.

In Ohio, state Republicans, led by State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, appear ready to adopt looser environmental regulations after months of lobbying from Akron, Ohio-based utility company FirstEnergy.

Seitz is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is attempting to weaken energy and environmental regulations across the country.

A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Seitz’s proposal would cost Ohioans $3.65 billion on electricity bills over the next 12 years.

 
 
by German Lopez 04.25.2013
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 01:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
us epa

Greater Cincinnati Among Worst for Air Pollution

Report finds region 10th worst for year-round particle pollution

The Greater Cincinnati area and Hamilton County ranked poorly in the American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report, released April 24, with failing grades in a couple categories.

The report, which used 2009-2011 U.S. EPA data, gave the Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington region an “F” for ozone pollution, a “D” for 24-hour particle pollution and a “fail” for year-round particle pollution. The region ranked 10th worst for year-round particle pollution and No. 14 worst for ozone pollution.

Meanwhile, Hamilton County received an “F” for its overall performance, with an “F” in ozone pollution, a “D” in 24-hour particle pollution and a “fail” in year-round particle pollution.

But the report found overall improvement around the nation, with most cities reducing year-round particle pollution and days of high ozone pollution.

Despite its current standing, Greater Cincinnati has also improved in the past few decades. In comparison to 1996, the region has 16.9 fewer high ozone days per year. In comparison to 2000, the region has 19.9 fewer days of high particle pollution and a lower concentration of pollutants in the air throughout the year.

Exposure to ozone and other pollutants can damage lung tissue, putting Greater Cincinnati at a higher risk for respiratory disease.

Particle pollution occurs when the air is tainted by a complex mix of pollutants. Year-round exposure can lead to death and cancer, while 24-hour spikes in exposure can cause illness and even death under some circumstances.

To help combat the issue, the report makes policy recommendations to the U.S. EPA, asking for stronger regulations on various sources of pollution, including power plants, gasoline, cars and even wood smoke. The Clean Air Act, which was strengthened in 1990, gives the EPA the regulatory power necessary to hand down regulations on many of these issues, but funding more enforcement would likely require congressional action.

States and cities can also curtail air pollution by passing clean energy policies. Ohio began supporting clean energy when it passed its Clean Energy Law in 2008, but State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, is reviewing the law’s energy efficiency and clean energy standards and may ultimately weaken them (“How Clean is Too Clean?” issue of March 27).

In Cincinnati, the state standards have helped foster more solar energy developments, which Environment Ohio says could turn Cincinnati into the solar capital of the region (“Solar Cincinnati,” issue of Dec. 19).

More public transportation options can also help reduce air pollution. The advocacy group American Public Transportation Association says switching from private to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon footprint: “A single commuter switching his or her commute to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon emissions by 10 percent and up to 30 percent if he or she eliminates a second car. When compared to other household actions that limit CO2, taking public transportation can be 10 times greater in reducing this harmful greenhouse gas.”

Cincinnati is currently pursuing plans to build a streetcar, but the project is being threatened by a major budget gap. The city is also planning to build more bike trails and other transportation options as part of Plan Cincinnati, the city’s first master plan since 1980.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.22.2013
Posted In: Education, Energy, Environment, Economy, News, Budget at 10:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
debe terhar

Morning News and Stuff

Terhar compares Obama to Hitler, Cincinnati unemployment drops, Portman's deficit plan

Ohio State Board of Education President Debe Terhar posted an image of Adolf Hitler on Facebook that said, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.” But the Cincinnati Republican, who was referencing President Barack Obama’s gun control proposals, now insists she was not comparing Obama to Hitler. It’s pretty obvious she was, though.

Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December, down from 6.9 percent in November. The drop is largely attributed to a decrease in the civilian labor force, which could imply less people are looking for work or seasonal changes are having an impact. Whatever the case, the amount of people who are employed and unemployed both dropped. Hamilton County’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate dropped to 6.2 percent in December, down from 6.4 percent in November, but that drop was also attributed to a declining labor force or seasonal factors. Greater Cincinnati’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate was unchanged from 6.4 percent, despite 2,600 less people working. In comparison, Ohio’s seasonally unadjusted rate was 6.6 percent in December, up from 6.5 percent in November, and the U.S. rate was 7.6 percent, up from 7.4 percent.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, suggested the Dollar-for-Dollar Deficit Reduction Act. The plan requires debt ceiling increases to be matched by an equal amount of spending cuts. Increasing the debt ceiling is essentially Congress agreeing to pay its bills. During the budget process and while passing other legislation, Congress agrees to a certain amount of spending. Increasing the debt ceiling just makes it possible for the president to pay those bills, even if it means surpassing a set debt level. If the debt ceiling isn't raised by May 18, the United States will default on its debts, plunging the country into depression. But the threat of destroying the U.S. economy has not stopped Republicans from using the debt ceiling as a negotiation tool to get the spending cuts they so badly want.

Public employees are avoiding changes to Ohio’s public pension system by retiring before the changes kick in. The changes make it so any teacher who retires before July 1 will get a 2 percent cost of living increase to their pensions in 2015. Anyone who retires after July 1 will not get the increase until 2018. After that, retirees will get a pension increase every five years. Experts are also expecting a rush of retirees in 2015, when age and years-of-service requirements for full benefits are set to gradually rise.

A new report found Ohio’s graduation rate is still improving. The U.S. Department of Education report found the state’s graduation rate was 81.4 percent in the 2009-10 school year, higher than the nation’s rate of 78.2 percent, and an increase from 78.7 percent rate in the 2006-2007 school year.

A study found a link between hourly workers at Hamilton County’s Fernald Feed Materials Production Center and intestinal cancer. 

As Ohio cuts back its solar program, Canada is shutting down the rest of its coal-fired power plants by the end of 2013.

The Cincinnati Reds may get to host the 2015 All-Stars Game.

Scientists are rushing to build robots that save lives in disaster zones. Will John Connor please stand up?

 
 
by Hannah McCartney 02.01.2013
 
 
streetcar

Court to Decide Dispute over Streetcar Utility Lines

Mallory announces construction to begin in April on track for 2015 completion

Another hurdle in the ongoing struggle to make the streetcar a reality was bypassed today, when Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. announced that after months entangled in a gridlock, Duke Energy and the city of Cincinnati have finally reached an agreement over who will pay for the relocation of utility lines.

Somewhat of an agreement, anyway. Mallory said that the city and Duke will go before a judge in Common Pleas court, who will make the final decision as to who should pay for the utility relocation. According to the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities in the next few weeks, and the court decision will determine cost responsibility later. The city and Duke are expected to file in Common Pleas court within the next few weeks, although the court decision could take years to finalize.

The city broke ground on the streetcar nearly a year ago, but the skirmish between Duke and the city delayed further development — Duke refused to begin any kind of construction before financial responsibility was determined.

The reconciliation contains two separate agreements, one of which outlines how Duke will safely operate its utilities once the streetcar is in place. The other demarcates how Duke and the city will resolve the issue of financial responsibility; they've both agreed to abide by the court ruling after any appeals are exhausted.
 
"The utilities' agreements are in place, the cars are being ordered and the construction bids are coming in," announced Dohoney.

Roxanne Qualls, city council member and Democratic mayoral candidate, has long been a supporter of the streetcar project, which she values as an indispensable economic investment for the city of Cincinnati. Yesterday, Qualls announced her request for the city to ramp up the streetcar construction timeline in order to have the project completed in time for the All-Star Games, which will take place in Cincinnati July 2015. Her announcement came just weeks after the city revised its timetable to delay project completion until April 2016.

In a letter from Qualls to Mallory and Dohoney, she explains: “This may present a challenge, but it is one I am sure the administration is capable of meeting. The streetcar will serve a critical role in efficiently and effectively moving visitors to and from Great American Ballpark and allowing them to conveniently visit other venues such as Fountain Square, Horseshoe Casino, Over-the-Rhine, Washington Park, etc.”

At the meeting, Mallory announced that the city would shoot for construction to be completed prior to the games, but there were no guarantees. The streetcar builder will ultimately set the timeline for the project, according to Jason Barron, Mallory's director of public affairs.

CityBeat recently covered the streetcar project's delays and how the 2013 mayoral race could affect its progress here.


 
 

 

 

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by German Lopez 02.19.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, Health, Pensions at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
city hall

Morning News and Stuff

Local infant deaths remain high, pension fixes proposed, Seitz renews anti-efficiency efforts

Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s infant mortality rates dropped to record lows in 2013, but the city and county’s rates of infant deaths remain far above the national average. Over the past five years, the city’s infant mortality rate hit 12.4 deaths per 1,000 live births and the county’s rate reached 9.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. In comparison, the national average in 2011 was 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. Cradle Cincinnati, a collaborative initiative formed in 2013, pointed to three possible factors to explain the troubling rates: short time between pregnancies, maternal smoking during pregnancy and poor sleeping habits, including deaths that could be easily prevented by ensuring a baby sleeps alone, on his or her back and in a crib.

Councilman Christopher Smitherman yesterday proposed fixes for Cincinnati’s ailing pension system, and the proposal includes a hit to city retirees’ benefits. Unique to Smitherman’s plan is a new $100 million commitment to help shore up the city’s unfunded liability of $870 million, but Smitherman could not say where council would get that much money. Otherwise, the proposal would freeze cost of living increases in the system for three years and reduce future cost of living increases from a 3 percent compounded rate to a 2 percent fixed rate, among other changes. Smitherman hopes to get up-or-down votes on his plan within the next two weeks, even if it requires splitting the plan into multiple parts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz plans to renew his efforts in the Ohio legislature to dismantle the state’s renewable energy and efficiency mandates. Seitz says “devastating testimony” in support of his bill should invigorate a push for his plan. But the testimony will apparently be based off a flawed industry-financed report released yesterday. A separate study, based on an economic model from the Ohio State University, found Ohio’s energy standards will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Cincinnati plans to begin marketing an 18-acre plot of land in Lower Price Hill to bring 400 jobs to the struggling neighborhood. After the city finishes environmental remediation this month, it hopes to put the property on the market. CityBeat previously covered some of Lower Price Hill’s struggles with poverty in further detail here.

The gubernatorial race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald tightened from seven points in November to five points this month, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. But the survey did not include Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as a choice — an omission that could work to Kasich’s favor in the polling results.

Gay families are being excluded from Obamacare benefits in Ohio and other states in which same-sex marriage is not recognized. That means Ohio’s gay families can’t get financial benefits going to traditional families to help them get covered. President Barack Obama’s administration says it’s aware of the issue, but it doesn’t plan a fix until next year.

Some Ohio lawmakers want an investigation into Kasich’s administration after documents showed his administration planning to work with oil and gas companies to promote fracking in state parks and forests. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. CityBeat covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

Bad news: A Chinese firm won’t bring an $80 million project to the Cincinnati area after all.

An Ohio driver rescued a kitten found frozen on the road.

A parasite commonly found in cats can now be found in arctic beluga whales. Scientists say melting ice barriers — a symptom of climate change — explains the pathogen’s increased migration.

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by German Lopez 02.14.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, State Legislature, Health care at 07:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
peter beck

Morning News and Stuff

Local politician faces charges, Ohio boosts solar jobs, Obamacare enrollment improves

State Rep. Peter Beck, a Republican from Mason, now faces 69 felony counts and increasing pressure to resign. Beck is accused of helping mislead investors into putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into an insolvent West Chester startup company and putting some of the funds from the company into his own campaign. Beck says he's innocent, but that hasn't stopped top Ohio Republicans from calling for him to resign to avoid a potential scandal and losing a seat in the Ohio legislature.

Ohio ranked No. 8 in the nation for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing by roughly 31 percent over the year, according to the latest census from the Solar Foundation. The report found that U.S. solar jobs grew 10 times faster than overall employment across the country. Environment Ohio applauded the numbers, praising Cincinnati in particular for its own solar-friendly efforts. But the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is looking into ways to weaken or undo the law that makes many solar projects possible across the state. A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy indicates that repealing the law could end up costing Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

The federal government reported slightly better enrollment numbers in January for Obamacare's once-troubled website, but Ohio and the nation still fell short of key demographic roles previously perpetuated by the federal government. Specifically, monthly enrollment actually beat projections for the first time since HealthCare.gov launched. But the cumulative amount of young adults signing up through January only reached 25 percent in the country and 21 percent in Ohio — far below the 39 percent goal the White House previously deemed necessary to avoid filling the insurance pool with older, less healthy enrollees who tend to use more resources and drive up costs.

With Obamacare's online marketplaces mostly fixed, some groups are now doubling efforts to get the uninsured, particularly young adults, enrolled. CityBeat interviewed Trey Daly, Ohio state director of one of those groups, here.

Explainer: Everything you need to know about responsible bidder.

Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected a Democrat-backed petition that would create a statewide ballot initiative for a Voter Bill of Rights, but proponents of the initiative say they'll come back with tweaked language. In a statement, DeWine said the proposal ran afoul of federal law in two places. Even if DeWine approved the language from a legal standpoint, supporters would still need to gather roughly 385,000 valid signatures before a July deadline to get the issue on the ballot in November. CityBeat covered the Voter Bill of Rights in greater detail here.

Following the large amount of charter school closures last year, State Auditor Dave Yost is launching an investigation into three Ohio charter school sponsors and the Ohio Department of Education.

The Cincinnati area could get 2 inches of snow.

A Ky. auditor says the former finance director of Covington stole nearly $800,000.

Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes posted pictures of downtown Cincinnati circa 1968 here.

Sam Adams is pouring millions into a Cincinnati brewery.

Grizzly bears could offer a better solution for weight loss.

Watch Dale Hansen, a Texas sports anchor, take on the NFL and Michael Sam’s anti-gay haters:

Video | News | Weather | Sports

Mon Feb 10 20:43:08 PST 2014

Hansen Unplugged: Celebrating our differences

Michael Sam would be the first openly gay player in the NFL; says he knows there will be problems... and they’ve already started. view full article

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by German Lopez 02.13.2014
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Ohio Ranks No. 8 for Solar Jobs

Solar sector grew by 31 percent between 2012 and 2013

Ohio ranked No. 8 among states for solar jobs in 2013, with solar employment growing to 3,800 from 2,900 over the year, according to the Feb. 11 census report from the Solar Foundation.

Still, the state actually dropped five spots to No. 23 in per-capita rankings, which measure the amount of solar jobs relative to a state’s overall population.

The U.S. solar industry employed more than 142,000 Americans in November, representing an increase of nearly 24,000 over the year, according to the Solar Foundation. At nearly 20 percent growth, the solar sector grew more than 10 times faster than the overall economy, which on average increased employment by 1.9 percent.

Advocacy group Environment Ohio applauded the latest numbers.

“The sun is an unlimited energy source that could provide all of our energy without the air and water pollution associated with coal, oil and gas,” said Christian Adams, state associate at Environment Ohio, in a statement. “This report shows that the solar industry is putting people to work to meet a growing percentage of our energy needs with a pollution-free energy source that has no fuel costs.”

Environment Ohio praised Cincinnati in particular. In 2012, Cincinnati became the first major city in the nation to support 100 percent renewable energy through electric aggregation. Last year, City Council adopted a motion to put solar panels on one in five city rooftops by 2028 and develop new financing programs to support the goal.

In a 2012 report, Environment Ohio found Cincinnati could become the solar capital of the region and lead a boom of solar jobs.

Under a 2008 state law, utility companies must meet benchmarks that require them to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.

A 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found the law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills between 2014 and 2025.

Pressured by Akron-based FirstEnergy and the ultra-conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate is currently looking for ways to weaken the renewable energy and efficiency standards. The renewed effort comes after attempts to dismantle the law by State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who often compare Ohio’s energy law to Stalinism, failed to gain support.

Meanwhile, Environment Ohio says the state should actually increase its standards to help combat global warming and boost renewable energy jobs.

 
 
by German Lopez 01.27.2014
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Ohio's Clean Energy Standards vs. Stalinism

Local state senator continues comparing energy law to Stalinism

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, continues comparing Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency law to Stalinism and other extreme Soviet-era policies.

Seitz’s latest comparison, according to Columbus’ Business First, claims Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell didn’t need “Stalinist” mandates to pursue their inventions.

“It was not some Stalinist government mandating, ‘You must buy my stuff,’” Seitz said.

It’s not the first time Seitz made the comparison. In March, he said Ohio’s Clean Energy Law reminds him of “Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan.”

Seitz, a director of the conservative, oil-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), remains unsuccessful in his years-long push to repeal Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. He says the law picks winners and losers in the energy market by favoring Ohio-based efficient, renewable sources.

Environmentalists and other supporters of the law claim it helps combat global warming and encourages economy-boosting innovations in the energy market, including the adoption of more solar power in Cincinnati.

Seitz’s references to Stalin continue the long-popular Republican tactic of comparing economic policies conservatives oppose with socialism, communism and other scary-sounding ideas.

While Seitz’s argument makes for catchy rhetoric, there are a few key differences between Stalinism and Ohio’s Clean Energy Law:

Stalinism is a framework of authoritarian, communist policies pursued in the 20th century by Soviet Union dictator Joseph Stalin. It involves a state takeover of various aspects of private life and the economy.

The Clean Energy Law is a policy established in 2008 by the democratic state of Ohio. The law sets benchmarks requiring utility companies to get 12.5 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, such as wind, hydro, biomass and solar, and save 22 percent of electricity through new efficiency efforts by 2025.

Stalinism pushes out private markets and replaces them with an authoritarian government’s total command.

The Clean Energy Law sets standards and regulations for existing private businesses.

Stalinism saves Ohioans no money.

The Clean Energy Law will save Ohioans $3.65 billion on their electricity bills over the next 12 years, according to a 2013 report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy.

To enforce his policies, Stalin killed millions of people — a number so high that historians have trouble calculating exactly how many died under the Soviet leader’s reign.

To enforce the Clean Energy Law, Ohio officials have killed zero people.

Stalinism and other communist policies are widely considered unsustainable by economists and historians and a primary reason for the Soviet Union’s downfall.

The Clean Energy Law follows regulatory and incentive models established in various states and countries with flourishing economies, including Colorado and Sweden.

The differences are pretty clear. Ohio’s Clean Energy Law might require some refining, and there might be better solutions to global warming, such as the carbon tax. But comparisons to Stalinism go too far.

 
 
by German Lopez 11.19.2013
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment, Taxes at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Morning News and Stuff

Bill weakens energy standards, groups rally against global warming, county could cut taxes

Cincinnati’s State Sen. Bill Seitz says he will introduce a “compromise” bill that still weakens Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable standards but allows some of the current requirements for in-state renewable sources to remain for a few years. Environmental and business groups argue Seitz’s original bill would effectively gut the state’s energy standards and, according to a study from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy, force Ohioans to pay an extra $3.65 billion in electricity bills over 12 years. But some utility companies, particularly Akron-based FirstEnergy, claim the current standards are too burdensome and impose extra costs on consumers.

Meanwhile, Ohioans on Nov. 16 rallied in front of the Ohio Statehouse to call on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to support federal regulations that would attempt to curtail human-caused global warming. The regulations are part of President Barack Obama’s second-term plan to limit carbon emissions from power plants, which Environment Ohio says are responsible for 41 percent of U.S. carbon emissions — a primary contributor to global warming. Although some conservatives deny human-caused global warming, scientists stated in the 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that they are at least 95 percent certain that human actions contribute to global warming.

Hamilton County commissioners will vote on Wednesday on a plan that would increase the tax return received by property taxpayers. Republican Commissioner Greg Hartmann’s proposal would increase the rebate from $10 million to $12 million, or $35 for each $100,000 of property value in 2013 to $42 in 2014. But Democratic Commissioner Todd Portune, the lone Democrat in the three-member board, says he would rather focus on increasing the sales tax to make the stadium fund sustainable and not reliant on casino revenue, which could go to other investments.

Commissioners also agreed to not place a property tax levy renewal for the Cincinnati Museum Center on the ballot until there’s a plan to fix Union Terminal. The informal decision followed the recommendations of the Hamilton County’s Tax Levy Review Committee, which reported that it will only support the levy renewal if the city, county and museum develop a plan to transfer ownership of Union Terminal from the city to a new, to-be-formed entity and locate public and private funds to renovate and upkeep the terminal in a sustainable fashion.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced on Monday that he’s forming a heroin unit to tackle what he describes as a drug epidemic sweeping across Ohio’s communities. The effort, which is estimated at $1 million, will focus on education, outreach and law enforcement. David Pepper, DeWine’s likely Democratic opponent for the attorney general position in 2014, argues DeWine, a Republican, moved too slowly on the issue; Pepper says the problem began in 2011, more than two years before DeWine’s proposal.

Cincinnati council members Charlie Winburn and Christopher Smitherman yesterday reiterated their opposition to the city’s responsible bidder policy, which requires bidders for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) work to follow specific standards for apprenticeship programs. The law has caused an impasse between the county, which owns MSD, and the city, which is in charge of management. The conflict comes in the middle of a federal mandate asking MSD to retrofit Cincinnati’s sewer system — a project that will cost $3.2 billion over 15 years. CityBeat covered the conflict in greater detail here.

Cincinnati’s Department of Public Services will expedite the delivery of bigger trash carts. The deliveries are part of Mayor Mark Mallory’s controversial trash policy, which limits each household to one trash cart that can be picked up by automated trucks in an effort to save money and avoid workers’ injuries. Mayor-elect John Cranley says the policy is too limiting and causing people to dump trash in public areas.

Cincinnati’s Metro is the most efficient bus service compared to 11 peer cities, but it ranks in the middle of the pack when it comes to level of service, according to a study from the University of Cincinnati Economics Center. Metro plans to announce today that it will balance its operational budget without fare increases or service cuts for the fourth year in a row.

For Thanksgiving Day, Metro will run on a holiday schedule. The sales office will also be closed for Thanksgiving and the day after.

Ohio will receive nearly $717,000 in a multi-state settlement involving Google, which supposedly overrode some browsers’ settings to plant cookies that collect information for advertisements.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday disbarred Stan Chesley, which means the local attorney can no longer practice law in front of the nation’s highest court. The controversy surrounding Chesley began more than a decade ago when he was accused of misconduct for his involvement with a $200 million fen-phen diet-drug settlement.

Some organisms might evolve the ability to evolve.

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by German Lopez 11.18.2013
Posted In: News, Environment, Energy at 01:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
environment rally

Ohioans Rally for Global Warming Regulations

Environmental groups call on Sen. Brown to show support

More than 200 Ohioans gathered at the Ohio Statehouse on Saturday to call on U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman to support federal regulations that would attempt to curtail human-caused global warming.

The regulations would impose stricter pollution limits on power plants across the nation, which Environment Ohio says are responsible for 41 percent of U.S. carbon emissions — a primary contributor to global warming.

The new rules are part of the climate plan President Barack Obama proposed in June to skip legislative action from a gridlocked Congress and slow down global warming by using the already-established regulatory arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Our message today is clear. The time is now to act on climate,” said Christian Adams, state associate with Environment Ohio, in a statement. “Global warming threatens our health, our environment and our children’s future. Ohioans support President Obama’s plan to clean up the biggest carbon polluters.”

The Obama administration proposed regulations on new power plants on Sept. 20 that effectively prevent any new coal power plants from opening up if they don’t capture and sequester carbon pollution. Experts argue those limits will have little effect on future carbon emissions because new coal power plants are already being phased out by natural gas.

But the statehouse rally asked Ohio’s senators to support incoming regulations that will impose further restrictions on existing power plants and — if they’re effective — reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere.

The regulations could have large implications for Ohio. A previous report from Environment Ohio found Ohio’s power plants pollute more than those in any state except Texas.

Coal companies warn the regulations could cost jobs. St. Louis-based Patriot Coal says “burdensome environmental and governmental regulations” have already “impacted demand for coal and increased costs.”

But the regulations could simply shift jobs to cleaner energy sectors. A 2012 report from Environment Ohio found Cincinnati could become the regional capital of solar power and help revitalize its economy with new jobs in the process.

Scientists have historically called for reducing global warming to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst effects of climate change. That would involve greatly reducing the amount of carbon that goes into the atmosphere over the next few decades, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the IPCC’s 2013 report, scientists said they are at least 95 percent certain that human actions contribute to global warming.

Many economists argue a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system are better ways to tackle climate change than regulations. But those policies would require legislative action that is unlikely in the current political climate, especially since many Republican legislators deny the science behind human-caused global warming.

 
 
by German Lopez 10.23.2013
Posted In: News, Jail, Health care, Energy at 09:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
ohio statehouse

Morning News and Stuff

Medicaid expansion challenged, jails go uninspected, local senator's energy bill criticized

Republican legislators filed a lawsuit against Ohio’s two-year, federally funded Medicaid expansion after Republican Gov. John Kasich went through the Controlling Board, an obscure seven-member legislative panel, instead of the Republican-controlled Ohio House and Senate to get approval for the expansion. The lawsuit, filed to the Ohio Supreme Court, claims, “Each representative is disenfranchised in his legislative capacity through the Controlling Board’s exercise of legislative authority.” Kasich put his request to the Controlling Board to bypass the legislature after months of unsuccessfully wrangling legislators in his own party to approve the expansion. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio previously found the expansion would insure between 300,000 and 400,000 Ohioans through fiscal year 2015; if legislators approve the expansion beyond that, the institute says it would generate $1.8 billion for Ohio and insure nearly half a million Ohioans over the next decade.

Meanwhile, some state senators plan to use the savings from the Medicaid expansion to cut taxes. For Ohioans making up to $50,000 a year, the 4-percent income tax cut would mean annual savings of less than $50.

State officials haven’t inspected southwest Ohio jails for five years, which means the jails could be breaking minimum standards set by the state without anyone knowing. The inspections were supposed to occur each year, but a lack of resources, which left only one inspector in the department, forced the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) to stop the practice and instead ask jails to inspect themselves — with limited checks on jails fabricating claims. The inspections are starting back up now that ODRC has a second jail inspector on its staff, but the inspections are announced beforehand, meaning jails can plan for them, and the punishment for failing to meet standards is historically unenforced.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says he will introduce two amendments to walk back controversial provisions of an even more controversial bill that weakens Ohio’s renewable energy and efficiency standards. Critics say the bill would water down and effectively eliminate Ohio’s cost-saving energy standards, but Seitz, who has ties to a national conservative group that opposes energy standards, argues the rules impose too many costs on utility companies. A previous study from Ohio State University and Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found repealing the standards would increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over the next 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s proposal and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

City Solicitor John Curp and Ohio Ethics Commission Executive Director Paul Nick said in an Oct. 22 email exchange that it was ethically OK for Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls to retain her job as a realtor and vote in support of the streetcar project, even though the project could indirectly benefit Qualls by increasing property values — and therefore her compensation as a realtor — along the route. The exchange was provided to CityBeat and various media outlets after mayoral candidate John Cranley criticized Qualls, who is also running for mayor, for the alleged ethical violation at an Oct. 22 press conference. But Curp and Nick, who cited two previous opinions from the Ohio Ethics Commission, agreed that Qualls’ financial connection to property values was too indirect and speculative because she only picks up a flat fee for the “arms-length transactions between private parties.” Curp also noted that Qualls had asked about the potential ethical conflict two times before.

A state prison in Toledo is no longer accepting new inmates after reports of increasing violence. The goal is to cut down on the amount of prisoners sharing a cell, ODRC spokeswoman JoEllen Smith told The Associated Press. Smith said the change was already in the works before a recent bout of killings. The facility holds roughly 1,300 prisoners, which is close to capacity.

Former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee is heading a state committee created by Gov. Kasich that’s trying to figure out how to curb college costs while improving quality.

Gallup says a majority of Americans now favor legalizing marijuana. CityBeat previously covered legalization and how it could affect Ohio in further detail here.

Women’s breasts apparently age more quickly than the rest of their bodies, according to a new study.

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days are extended.

On Oct. 29, local residents will be able to give feedback to Cincinnati officials about the city budget — and also nab some free pizza. The open budgeting event is from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at 1115 Bates Ave., Cincinnati.

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by German Lopez 10.03.2013
Posted In: News, Pensions, Drugs, Energy at 09:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
tea party pensions

Morning News and Stuff

Pension proposal could reduce benefits, energy bill contested, needle exchanges approved

Early voting for the 2013 City Council and mayoral elections is now underway. Find your voting location here. Normal voting hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., although some days will be extended.

Local business groups, unions, progressive organizations, the mayor and all council members are united against a tea party-backed ballot initiative that would semi-privatize Cincinnati’s pension system, and a Sept. 27 report from the conservative Buckeye Institute helps explain the opposition. The report echoes concerns from both sides: It finds new employees would have their benefits cut by one-third under the tea party’s proposed system, but it also shows that, when measured differently, Cincinnati’s unfunded pension liability might currently stand at $2.57 billion, more than three times the $862 million estimate city officials typically use. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees contribute to and manage their own individual retirement accounts; under the current system, the city pools pension funds and manages the investments through an independent board. The idea is to move workers from a public system to private, 401k-style plans. Voters will decide on the amendment when it appears on the ballot as Issue 4 on Nov. 5.

Environmental and business groups argued in front of the Ohio Senate yesterday that a new deregulatory bill would effectively gut Ohio’s energy efficiency standards and hurt the state’s green businesses, but the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), claims it’s “not as loosey-goosey” as environmental and business groups make it seem. The biggest point of contention: Seitz’s bill would allow utility companies to count energy savings that are seen as “business as usual” toward energy efficiency standards. That, green groups argue, would let businesses claim they’re becoming more energy efficient without making any real energy-efficiency investments. It could also cost Ohioans more money: A previous report from Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition found the bill could increase Ohioans’ electricity bills by $3.65 billion over 12 years. CityBeat covered Seitz’s bill in further detail here and the national conservative groups behind the deregulatory attempts here.

The Ohio House yesterday approved a bill that expands local authority to pursue needle-exchange programs that would provide clean needles to drug addicts. Supporters of the bill say it would help local communities reduce drug-related infections and perhaps drug addiction, but opponents claim it surrenders to drug pushers by enabling more drug activity. A 2004 study from the World Health Organization found “a compelling case that (needle-exchange programs) substantially and cost effectively reduce the spread of HIV among (injection drug users) and do so without evidence of exacerbating injecting drug use at either the individual or societal level.” CityBeat covered the war on drugs and the changing approach to combating Ohio and the nation’s drug problems in further detail here.

Some help for voting: “2013 City Council Candidates at a Glance.”

The Cincinnati Bengals want a new high-definition scoreboard that could cost county taxpayers $10 million. But taxpayers don’t have much of a choice in the matter; the stadium lease requires taxpayers purchase and install new technology, including a scoreboard, at the Bengals’ request once the technology is taken up at 14-plus other NFL stadiums.

Women gathered at the Ohio Statehouse yesterday to protest measures in the recently passed state budget that restrict access to legal abortions and defund family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood. CityBeat covered the state budget, including the anti-abortion restrictions, in further detail here.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio says Republican legislators should forget their fight against Obamacare and instead focus on a deficit-reduction package. Republicans helped cause a federal government shutdown by only passing budget bills that weaken Obamacare, but Democrats have refused to negotiate over the health care law, which is widely viewed as President Barack Obama’s legacy-defining domestic policy. Meanwhile, Obamacare’s online marketplaces opened on Tuesday, allowing participants to compare and browse subsidized private insurance plans. CityBeat covered the marketplaces and efforts to promote them in further detail here.

The $2.5 billion Brent Spence Bridge replacement project will require tolls, according to a study released by Kentucky and Ohio transportation officials on Thursday. Officials at every level of government have been pursuing a replacement for the Brent Spence Bridge as concerns mount over its economy-damaging inadequacies.

A $26 million residential and retail development project is coming just north of Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino.

Greater Cincinnati Water Works is using an extra layer of ultraviolet disinfection treatment to make local water cleaner.

The second round of Ohio’s job training program offers $30 million to help businesses train workers so they can remain competitive without shedding employees.

“Project Censored” analyzes the stories the mainstream media failed to cover in the past year. Check the list out here.

A new study found eye contact makes people less likely to agree with a persuasive argument, especially if they’re skeptical in the first place.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.26.2013
Posted In: News, Health care, Energy, Environment at 09:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

Morning News and Stuff

Ohio could weaken energy rules, city wins green award, Obamacare beats projections

CityBeat is participating in a City Council candidate forum on Oct. 5. Have any questions you would like to ask candidates? Submit them here.

Ohio legislators appear ready to weaken environmental and energy regulations after months of lobbying by Akron, Ohio-based utility company FirstEnergy. The utility company argues the regulations, particularly energy efficiency standards that require customers use less electricity, cost businesses and customers too much money. But environmental groups and other supporters of the rules say FirstEnergy is just looking out for its own self-interests while putting up a front of caring about others. A study by the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy coalition found eliminating the energy efficiency standards would cost Ohioans $3.65 billion more on electricity bills over the next 12 years. State Sen. Bill Seitz, who’s spearheading the regulation-weakening efforts, formally introduced his bill yesterday, and business groups say it’s a backdoor way to eliminate energy efficiency standards and the in-state renewable business by weakening them so much.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati on Tuesday announced it won a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of local efforts to draw down dirty energy production and replace it with clean sources. The Cincinnati area currently produces nearly 408 million kilowatt-hours through green energy sources, which is enough to cancel out nearly 60,000 cars’ emissions and meet 14 percent of the community’s purchased electricity use, according to city officials. To commemorate the award, Mayor Mark Mallory unveiled a Green Power Community sign at the Cincinnati Zoo, which installed solar panels on its parking lot in 2011 and became one of the region’s leading clean energy producers.

Raw health insurance premiums for Obamacare’s online marketplaces will be 16 percent lower than previously projected, according to the latest estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released less than one week before marketplaces open on Oct. 1. In Ohio, the average family of four making $50,000 a year will have to pay $282 a month after tax credits for the second cheapest “silver” plan, or $486 less than the plan would cost without tax credits. Under Obamacare, online marketplaces will allow consumers to compare and purchase subsidized health insurance plans in the individual market. The plans only apply to the individual market, which means the majority of Americans, who are currently getting insurance through an employer or public programs, will be under a different insurance system and won’t qualify for the online marketplaces’ tax subsidies. CityBeat covered outreach efforts for the online marketplaces — and Republican attempts to obstruct them — in further detail here.

Commentary: “Let Them Eat Nothing?

The Charter Committee, Cincinnati’s unofficial third party, yesterday endorsed Roxanne Qualls for mayor. The endorsement comes as little surprise to most election-watchers, considering the Charter Committee has endorsed Qualls four times over the years.

The Cincinnati Enquirer is displeased it couldn’t cover a private mayoral debate between Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley because the group hosting the debate closed its doors to the public.

Ohio Democrats yesterday made their endorsements for 2014: Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald for governor, former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper for attorney general, State Sen. Nina Turner for secretary of state, State Rep. Connie Pillich for state treasurer and Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell for the Ohio Supreme Court.

This infographic released by an anti-privatization group shows the negative impact of private prisons. CityBeat covered Ohio’s own privately owned prison and the problems it’s faced, including rising violence, in further detail here.

A federal grand jury charged a North Canton man for allegedly making illegal campaign contributions to U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Both candidates returned the campaign contributions after they became public in stories published by the Toledo Blade and The New Republic.

A 43-year-old Hamilton man allegedly used a poison-laced knife to stab his brother-in-law.

A supposedly sexist gorilla is getting kicked out of the Dallas Zoo after 18 years.

 
 
by German Lopez 09.25.2013
Posted In: News, Energy, Environment at 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
news1_angrypowerplant_ashleykroninger

City Wins EPA Award for Clean Energy

Local green power cancels out emissions from nearly 60,000 cars

Cincinnati officials announced on Tuesday that the city had won a 2013 Green Power Leadership Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because of local efforts to draw down dirty energy production and replace it with clean sources.

The Cincinnati area currently produces nearly 408 million kilowatt-hours through green energy sources, which is enough to cancel out nearly 60,000 cars’ emissions and meet 14 percent of the community’s purchased electricity use, according to city officials.

“EPA is pleased to recognize the Cincinnati, Ohio community with a Green Power Community of the Year award for its leadership and citizen engagement in dramatically increasing its use of green power,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement. “We applaud Cincinnati’s residents, businesses and organizations for choosing green power that will help address climate change and support a clean energy future.”

To commemorate the award, Mayor Mark Mallory unveiled a Green Power Community sign at the Cincinnati Zoo, which installed solar panels on its parking lot in 2011 and became one of the region’s leading clean energy producers.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s project is one of the many developments that led advocacy group Environment Ohio to declare that Cincinnati could become the solar capital of the region.

Cincinnati also adopted an aggregation program in 2012, which supposedly allows residents and small businesses to get lower electricity prices through 100 percent green power.

On June 14 and again on Sept. 1, the EPA ranked the Cincinnati area No. 6 in the nation for locally purchased green power. The June ranking made Cincinnati the first Green Power Community in Ohio and surrounding states.

The city administration says Cincinnati’s successes have pushed other cities, including Cleveland and Chicago, to pursue their own clean energy efforts.

In Ohio, state Republicans, led by State Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, appear ready to adopt looser environmental regulations after months of lobbying from Akron, Ohio-based utility company FirstEnergy.

Seitz is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is attempting to weaken energy and environmental regulations across the country.

A report from the Ohio State University and the Ohio Advanced Energy Economy found Seitz’s proposal would cost Ohioans $3.65 billion on electricity bills over the next 12 years.

 
 
 
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