As it celebrates its 40th anniversary, Metro, Greater Cincinnati’s bus system, is moving forward with changes that seek to improve services that have dealt with funding shortfalls and cuts in the past few years. The biggest change is Metro*Plus, a new limited-stop weekday bus service that will be free through Aug. 23. Metro spokesperson Jill Dunne says Metro*Plus is a step toward bus rapid transit (BRT), an elaborate system that uses limited stops, traffic signal priority and bus-only lanes. Metro*Plus is mostly federally funded, and Metro says an expansion into BRT, which could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, would also be carried by federal grants. Besides Metro*Plus, Cincinnati’s bus system is also adding and cutting some routes.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, says he will introduce legislation
capping how much utilities can spend on energy efficiency programs and
scrapping requirements for in-state solar and wind power — two major
moves that will weaken Ohio’s Clean Energy Law. But Seitz says the
changes would keep mandates for utilities to provide one-fourth of their
electricity through alternative sources and reduce consumer consumption by 22
percent by 2025. Environmentalists have been critical of
Seitz’s review ever since he announced it in response to pressure from
Akron-based FirstEnergy, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. (Correction: This paragraph previously said utilities are required to provide one-fourth of their electricity through renewable sources; the requirement actually applies to “alternative sources.”)
Libertarian mayoral candidate Jim Berns yesterday declared his campaign dead and blamed local media, including CityBeat, for its demise. Berns said the media has done little to promote him over Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and ex-Councilman John Cranley, who have similar views on every major issue except the streetcar and parking plan, both of which Qualls supports and Cranley opposes. In response, Berns attached a picture of himself playing dead in front of a vehicle. The stunt was just the latest in the Libertarian’s campaign, which has included Berns quitting the race for one day before deciding to stay in, the candidate giving away tomato plants while claiming they’re marijuana and lots of free ice cream.
Commentary: “Gov. Kasich’s Bias Toward Secrecy.”
Cranley is airing a new advertisement attacking Qualls. The ad focuses largely on the streetcar and parking plan. As Chris Wetterich of The Business Courier points out, the ad “takes some factual liberties”: Parking meters are being leased, not sold, to the quasi-public Greater Cincinnati Port Authority, and it’s so far unclear how the money from the lease is going to be spent and if the resulting projects will really favor downtown over neighborhoods.
Hamilton County commissioners approved the next phase of The Banks, which could include another hotel if developers can’t find office tenants to fill the currently planned space. The second phase of the project already includes a one-block complex with 305 apartments.
State officials are reporting a 467-percent increase in the amount of seized meth labs this year. “We’re seeing a continuous spike,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine. “It is easier (for people to make the drug). We used to talk about ‘meth houses,’ or places people would make this. Well, today, you can make it in a pop bottle.”
Ohio’s school report cards will be released today, allowing anyone to go online and see what a school is rated on an A-F scale.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs yesterday announced more than $317,000 will be directed to Ohio to provide critical housing and clinical services for homeless veterans. The grants are part of the $75 million appropriated this year to support housing needs for homeless veterans.
Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is launching a new initiative called #RunTheCity, which will allow citizens to run or walk alongside local officials in an event that’s supposed to simultaneously encourage access and healthy living. The first event with City Solicitor John Curp, Cincinnati’s top lawyer, will be tonight at 6 p.m. at Wulsin Triangle, corner of Observatory Avenue and Madison Road in Hyde Park.
Two Greater Cincinnati companies — U.S. Logistics and ODW Logistics & Transportation Services — made the Inc. 500 list for fastest-growing companies, and more than 50 others made the Inc. 5,000 list. Four landed on the Inc. 500 list last year and one got on the list in 2011.
Another good local economic indicator: Greater Cincinnati home sales jumped 30 percent in July.
Mouse skin cells were successfully transformed into eggs, sperm and babies, but a similar treatment for infertile humans is likely a few decades away.
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.
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.
Today is primary election day in Ohio, but there are no ballot items in Cincinnati. Some Hamilton County precincts outside the city have ballot issues, which are listed here. Polls will be open between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
An amendment snuck into the budget bill approved by the Republican-controlled Ohio House would force universities to decide between providing the proper documentation for voting to out-of-state students or getting extra money from out-of-state tuition rates, prompting concerns from Democrats that Republicans are attempting to limit voting opportunities once again. Republicans spent a bulk of the lead-up to the 2012 election approving measures that limit voting, including a later-repealed set of laws that greatly reduced early voting hours.
About 82 percent of all Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings in Ohio are in Cincinnati, and the reason is likely local tax incentives, which allow Cincinnatians to eliminate property taxes for up to 15 years by retrofitting businesses and homes in an environmentally friendly manner. CityBeat covered Cincinnati’s successes in solar energy here and FirstEnergy’s campaign to weaken Ohio’s energy efficiency standards here.
If legislators fail to take up the Medicaid expansion, the issue could appear on the ballot on November 2014. Supporters of the expansion, including Gov. John Kasich, say the expansion will help insure hundreds of thousands of Ohioans and save the state money in the next decade, but Republican legislators say they’re concerned the federal funds backing the expansion will eventually dry up. CityBeat covered the Ohio House budget bill, which effectively rejected the expansion for the time being, here.
The Ohio Department of Transportation says 2,230 bridges in the state need repairs, but there’s not enough funding to make it happen.
Ohio banks are warning of possible cyberattacks that could happen today. The Ohio Bankers League and the Ohio Credit Union League said the attacks would impact online services but not the security of customers’ bank accounts.
The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport has the second highest airfares in the nation, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble was ranked No. 7 in a ranking for top 50 most diverse companies by DiverseInc.
Sometimes human brains make people do bad things, such as enjoying high-calorie foods even when the foods aren’t delicious.
A new interactive map shows hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is flourishing in U.S. areas where water is already scarce — a potentially bad sign for Ohio counties that are allowing the water-intensive drilling process within their own borders.
The map from advocacy group Ceres shows northeast Ohio counties with fracking activity are made up of low, medium-to-high and high stress areas, with most of the identified fracking wells in medium-to-high and high stress areas.
The website explains Ohio's experience is actually better than the national trend: "In the map below, one can see that almost half (47 percent) of shale gas and oil wells are being developed in regions with high to extremely high water stress. This means that more than 80 percent of the annual available water is being withdrawn by municipal, industrial and agricultural users in these regions. Overall, 75 percent of wells are located in regions with medium or higher baseline water stress levels."
Fracking is a relatively new drilling process that involves pumping millions of gallons of water underground to fracture shale and reveal oil and gas reserves. CityBeat previously covered Ohio's fracking boom in further detail here.
City Hall will be hosting a meeting on the streetcar project at 6 p.m. today to figure out what the project’s options are now that it has a $17.4 million budget gap. The meeting was called by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls after City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. explained in a memo that the project has a budget gap because construction bids came in $26 million to $43 million over budget.
State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican who chairs the the Senate Public Utilities Committee, says he wants to “modify,” not repeal, Ohio’s Clean Energy Law to have more clear-cut compliance standards. Environmentalists say they’re concerned Seitz will use the review as a front to water the law down, especially since electricity giant FirstEnergy is pushing against the law’s energy efficiency standards. CityBeat wrote more about the conflict between environmentalists and FirstEnergy here.
It’s one issue Ohio’s leading liberal and conservative think tanks apparently agree on: Ohio is not the “economic miracle” often touted by Gov. John Kasich. In the past year, job numbers for the state have been particularly weak, with public sector losses nearly making up for very weak private sector gains. The right-leaning Buckeye Institute for Public Policy Solutions says a complicated tax system is largely to blame for the stagnant job growth, while the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio is mostly focusing on governments’ budget austerity.
A student allegedly shot himself in front of classmates at LaSalle High School today. Police say he is currently at a hospital, and there are currently no reports of anyone else being shot. As of 10:30 a.m., the situation was still developing.
After misleading media reports sent the public into a furor, Mayor Mark Mallory agreed to rescind salary raises
that were part of his office’s deficit-reducing budget plan. The plan
gave the mayor’s top aides raises to make up for an increased workload following staff reductions. Even with the raises, the plan
reduced the deficit by $33,000 during the mayor’s remaining time in
office — a fact originally omitted by The Cincinnati Enquirer.
Music Hall’s facelift is not happening just yet, even though approvals from City Council and the Music Hall Revitalization Company have already paved the way for Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) to begin renovations. As project manager, 3CDC will take four to six months to develop a budget, review designs and go over the legal and financial work necessary to start the project.Hamilton County is currently tracking to be $1.5 million over budget this year — a budget hole the Board of Commissioners hopes to plug by using the rainy day fund.
One section of the Ohio House budget bill would allow charter schools to enroll out-of-state students and charge them tuition. The policy could involve online schools, which were previously found to have poor results in a CityBeat report. The relaxed rules potentially add more controversy to a budget plan that’s already mired in criticism for defunding Planned Parenthood and forgoing the Medicaid expansion, which CityBeat covered in further detail here.Ohio gas prices are starting 9 cents down this week.
Bad news: The largest HIV vaccine study was shut down after patients contracted the AIDS virus more often than those who didn’t take it.
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.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, State Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, compared Ohio’s energy efficiency laws to former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s five-year plan. Seitz is leading the charge on a review of the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards, which CityBeat covered in further detail here. The review has been supported by Akron-based First Energy, an energy company that has long opposed Ohio’s energy efficiency standards. But environmental groups say they’re worried the review will water down a law that has brought clean energy and jobs to the state.
Cincinnati is poised to approve a lease of Music Hall that will allow renovations to move forward. The plan would lease the Music Hall for 75 years to carry out renovations that will likely cost between $50 million and $100 million, with the city contributing about $10 million. CityBeat covered the plan when it was first announced here.
In the midst of Cincinnati’s heated budget battle, the Ohio Casino Control Commission will release its monthly revenue estimates for Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino today. City officials estimated that about $9 million to $11 million will be available at a City Council meeting Thursday — seemingly the only point of agreement in a testy exchange over the city’s budget that left city leaders with no consensus on local budget woes. Democratic mayoral candidate John Cranley and others have proposed using casino revenue to help balance the city’s budget without layoffs, but Cranley’s $21 million estimate has drawn criticism for being unrealistic.
The Ohio House is likely to propose alternatives to Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan this week. State legislators have criticized Kasich’s plan for favoring the wealthy, raising taxes for many Ohioans and expanding Medicaid with the use of federal funds. CityBeat covered the governor’s plan in further detail here.
National parks around Ohio are cutting hours and hiring because of sequestration, a series of across-the-board budget cuts that began March 1 after congressional inaction. The cuts have forced the James A. Garfield National Historic Site at Mentor, Ohio, to close on Sundays, which means about 30,000 tourists will be unable to visit this year, according to Todd Arrington, chief of interpretation and education at the park.
Ohio’s rural speed limit is being changed to 70 mph, and signs will soon reflect that.
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s only female prime minister, died at age 87.
A fusion rocket could shoot people to Mars in 30 days.
Cincinnati’s Youth Jobs Fair will be held today at the Duke Energy Convention Center between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. The fair provides an opportunity for young people, typically aged between 16 and 24, to look for work from a variety of participating employers. Mayor Mark Mallory says attendees should “dress for success,” as if they were going to their first day on the job.
State environmental groups and an Akron-based energy company are at odds over a 2008 law that tasks the state and utility companies with meeting stringent requirements for renewable energy and energy efficiency. State Sen. Bill Seitz, the Cincinnati Republican who heads the Senate Public Utilities Committee, has agreed to review Ohio’s Clean Energy Law, while FirstEnergy, an Akron-based energy company, protests the requirements as too expensive for the company and consumers around the state. But Seitz’s decision has alarmed environmental groups who largely see the law as effective three years later.
Republicans in the General Assembly are considering an incremental approach to elections reform after their comprehensive efforts in 2011 and 2012 were received with widespread accusations of voter suppression. The details aren’t worked out yet, but Seitz is planning on introducing bills that he says will cut down on provisional ballot voting and provide clearer rules for poll workers collecting provisional ballots, and other Republicans are looking to set uniform statewide early voting hours. Democratic State Sen. Nina Turner says she wants to see a more comprehensive approach to elections reform, including a more relaxed approach to provisional ballots.
The Hamilton County Board of Commissioners are considering raises for county employees, but they first have to find a way to pay for the increases. Board President Chris Monzel, a Republican, says he would like to wait to see how Gov. John Kasich’s budget turns out to institute a merit-based raise system. Commissioner Todd Portune, a Democrat, says he wants to guarantee all employees a 1-percent increase.
City Council held a special meeting last night to discuss the city’s pension system, which many are worried is costing the city too much in the long term. City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. says the city needs to take more steps to stabilize the system: “More money in, figuring out where that more money will come from, looking at the current picture of the benefits themselves, and some way of financing it short of putting lump sums of cash in.”
The U.S. Supreme Court showed doubts over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which effectively banned same-sex marriage at a federal level, at hearings yesterday.
President Barack Obama’s administration released a proposal that will help deal with the effects of global warming on wildlife, including arctic foxes.
Watch a nine-year-old discuss the meaning of life and the universe: