CityBeat Blogs - Environment http://www.citybeat.com/cincinnati/blogs-1-1-1-34-25.html <![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

A group of Greenpeace protesters face burglary and vandalism charges after a stunt yesterday on the Procter & Gamble buildings. Protesters apparently teamed up with a helicopter to climb outside the P&G buildings to hang up a large sign criticizing the company for allegedly enabling the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia by working with an irresponsible palm oil supplier. P&G officials say they are looking into the protesters’ claims, but they already committed to changing how they obtain palm oil by 2015.

Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) will step in to resolve the status of a downtown grocery and apartment tower project. The previous city administration pushed the project as a means to bring more residential space downtown, but Mayor John Cranley refuses to pay to move a tenant in the parking garage that needs to be torn down as part of the project. Following Cranley and Councilman Chris Seelbach’s request for 3CDC’s help, the development agency will recommend a path forward and outline costs to the city should it not complete the project.

Meanwhile, the tenants in the dispute announced today that they will sue the city to force action and stop the uncertainty surrounding their salon business.

Cranley insists politics were not involved in an appointment to the Cincinnati Board of Health, contrary to complaints from the board official the mayor opted to replace. Cranley will replace Joyce Kinley, whose term expired at the end of the month, with Herschel Chalk. “Herschel Chalk, who(m) I’m appointing, has been a long-time advocate against prostate cancer, who's somebody I’ve gotten to know,” Cranley told WVXU. “I was impressed by him because of his advocacy on behalf of fighting cancer. I committed to appoint him a long time ago.”

The costs for pausing the streetcar project back in December remain unknown, but city officials are already looking into what the next phase of the project would cost.

Troubled restaurant Mahogany’s must fully pay for rent and fees by March 10 or face eviction.

Through his new project, one scientist intends to “make 100 years old the next 60.”

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<![CDATA[Ohio Ranks No. 8 for Solar Jobs]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Ohio's Clean Energy Standards vs. 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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

The Hamilton County Board of Elections plans to decide today whether it will move its offices and early voting from downtown to Mount Airy. The two Democrats on the board argue moving the offices would push early voting away from public transportation options and the city’s core, while the two Republicans claim it’s “good government” because the Mount Airy site consolidates county services with the coroner’s office and includes free parking. In the event of a tie between Democrats and Republicans, Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, will break the tie. Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, proposed an alternative site downtown on Thursday, but at least one Republican county official said it wasn’t enough to meet the county’s needs.

One of the Republicans on the board resigned as the city’s lobbyist to avoid a conflict of interest prior to today’s vote.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House last week approved a bill that would allow school boards to designate school employees to carry concealed firearms and prohibit school boards from releasing the names of those employees. Republicans argue the proposal will help make schools safer against would-be shooters. But several studies indicate more guns lead to more gun-related violence. A 2009 ABC News special also found even trained gun-wielders fail to properly react in the event of a shooting.

Fracking waste could soon move through barges on the Ohio River, depending on an incoming decision from the U.S. Coast Guard. During the fracking process, drillers pump millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to unlock oil and gas reserves. But some of that water returns to the surface, and that wastewater needs to be dumped somewhere. Oil and gas companies support the allowance of river barges as a potentially cheaper transportation option for the wastewater. But environmentalists, emergency response experts and other critics argue a spill on the Ohio River could cause widespread damage as toxic wastewater flows down a river many communities tap into for drinking water.

Citing research from Pennsylvania fracking sites, some advocates argue Ohio officials should take another look at whether radiation from Ohio’s fracking operations is affecting surrounding landfills and aquifers.

Work at The Banks continues despite a debate over buildings’ heights.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center significantly improved outcomes for teens with asthma, according to a Pediatrics study.

Warning: Some Ohioans have been targeted by utility bill scams.

Ohio gas prices remained relatively steady at the start of the week.

Popular physicist Stephen Hawking argues there are no black holes, but other physicists appear skeptical of Hawking’s claims.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

In the third month of open enrollment, Obamacare failed to hit key demographic targets for young adults in Ohio and across the nation. White House officials say about about 39 percent of those who sign up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run marketplaces must be young adults. The idea is to get enough young, healthy enrollees to hold down costs as an older, sicker population signs up for health insurance made more easily available through Obamacare’s systems and regulations. But in December, only 19 percent of signups in Ohio and 24 percent of signups nationwide were young adults.

The Ohio Department of Education will recalculate report card data and investigate whether to punish staff after Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and six other Ohio school districts that scrubbed student attendance data. By manipulating the data, schools can appear to be performing better, but the actions obviously jeopardize the authenticity of Ohio’s school accountability system. CPS says its internal investigations found no evidence of deliberate manipulation and the data errors shouldn’t be enough to alter the school’s standing in state report cards. For CPS and the six other school districts, the issues began after the state auditor in 2012 launched an investigation into school data scrubbing.

To avoid contamination from a W. Va. chemical spill, Cincinnati Water Works will shut down its water intake system along the Ohio River and instead rely on the water intake system at the groundwater treatment facility in Fairfield. Mayor John Cranley said the shutdown will last two days, or more than twice the roughly 20 hours required for the chemical slick to pass by. Consumers shouldn’t notice a difference, according to Water Works officials.

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will decide whether to allow fracking wastewater to travel along the Ohio River and other federal waterways and how strictly regulated the shipments should be. Fracking is a drilling technique in which millions of gallons of water are pumped underground to unlock oil and gas reserves, but the process produces a lot of wastewater as a result. CityBeat previously covered fracking and the controversy surrounding it in further detail here.

With legislation repealing Ohio’s energy rules now stalled, Champaign County residents are challenging the constitutionality of Ohio’s in-state renewable energy requirements in court. Supporters of the law claim the rules help foster a green energy sector in the state, while opponents argue the rules increase costs for businesses and consumers. CityBeat previously covered State Sen. Bill Seitz’s legislative attempts to repeal the rules here.

Another tea party-backed candidate might challenge Gov. John Kasich in the Republican primary. The reveal comes just days after a tea party leader abruptly dropped his challenge against the incumbent governor.

If state legislators approve, Gov. Kasich will hold his state of the state address this year at Medina, Ohio, on Feb. 24.

Three judges will cover for Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Tracie Hunter while she fights felony charges in court.

State Rep. Pete Beck of Mason, who was indicted on 16 felony counts for alleged fraud and theft, is facing a primary challenger.

Cincinnati repaved 130 lane miles of road in 2013, according to city officials.

Duke Energy cut a check for the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority today to help redevelop Bond Hill and Queensgate.

A blind student is suing Miami University for alleged discrimination that prevented her from completing coursework.

One vote made the difference in 43 of Ohio’s 2013 elections, according to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Ky. developers are still pursuing the Noah’s Ark theme park, despite troubles raising funds for the project.

Today is the last day to vote for the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards.

An infection can turn swarming locusts into solitary grasshoppers, a study found.

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<![CDATA[Global Warming Didn't Stop Just Because We're Cold Now]]>

The recent bout of cold weather does nothing to disprove the scientifically established phenomenon of global warming, despite what conservative media might be telling some Cincinnatians.

Many Cincinnatians have taken to social media in the past few days to chime in on what the recent weather means for global warming — a debate fostered by so-called skeptics on talk radio and Fox News.

But the scientific literature is based on years and decades of trends, meaning a few days or weeks of cold weather signify little in the big picture of climate change.

In fact, Googles definition of climate is “the weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period.” The key, scientifically minded folks point out, is “long period.”

When that long period is analyzed, the trend is clear:

The trend explains why scientists almost all agree global warming is happening and most certainly spurred by human actions. In the 2013 report from the the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists said they are at least 95 percent certain that human actions contribute to global warming.

Beyond the scientific facts, for every anecdote out there, there is often a contradicting anecdote from another source. While Cincinnati and the Midwest may be coping with a cold winter, summer-stricken Australia is recovering from its own bout of hot weather and drought. 

The contradicting conditions don’t prove or disprove global warming, but they do show the folly of relying on anecdotal evidence.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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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<![CDATA[Ohioans Rally for Global Warming Regulations]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[City Wins EPA Award for Clean Energy]]>

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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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

Hamilton County once again froze new work on a $3.2 billion project that will retrofit Cincinnati’s sewers because of a dispute concerning the city’s established bidding requirements. City Council in 2012 passed and in 2013 further adjusted rules that require companies bidding for lucrative sewer contracts to meet specific local hiring and training standards. City Council says the requirements will produce more local jobs, but Hamilton County commissioners argue that the rules favor unions and cost too much for businesses. Councilman Chris Seelbach and Commissioner Chris Monzel were originally working on a compromise, but prospects fell through after City Council rejected the deal. CityBeat covered the conflict in further detail here.

Covington, Ky., is publicly welcoming Pure Romance to the other side of the Ohio River, which could cost Cincinnati and Ohio up to 120 jobs and $100 million in revenue. Pure Romance was initially planning to move from Loveland, Ohio, to downtown Cincinnati with some tax support from the city and state, but after the state’s tax credit agencies rejected the plan, the company has been getting better offers from out-of-state sources, including Covington. Ohio officials say they denied Pure Romance because the company isn’t part of a target industry such as biotech, energy or logistics, but emails have suggested that the Republican state government is worried about the deal coming off as politically embarrassing because some of Pure Romance’s products include sex toys.

Ohio coal officials repeatedly complained about the state’s water pollution rules to Gov. John Kasich, whose administration then carried on the complaints to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Kasich’s office insists it was just trying to collect “different viewpoints and then work together to challenge each other to do the best job possible,” but environmental advocates say the governor was putting unfair pressure on a state agency just trying to do its job. The conflict might explain why the Ohio EPA’s top water-quality official, George Elmaraghy, was forced to resign after claiming that coal companies are pursuing permits “that may have a negative impact on Ohio streams and wetlands and violate state and federal laws.”

The tea party-backed pension reform effort on Thursday sued to change ballot language approved by the Hamilton County Board of Elections. The lawsuit says the current ballot language is making “conjecture and partisan argumentation” by claiming the pension amendment will force the city to raise taxes, fees or other revenues to cope with stricter requirements for paying back Cincinnati’s $872 million pension liability. If it’s approved by voters, the amendment would effectively privatize the city’s pension system so future city employees, minus police and firefighters, would be required to contribute to and manage an individual 401k-style plan; currently, the city pools city employees’ retirement funds, makes its own contribution and invests the funds through an independent board. CityBeat covered the tea party-backed pension amendment in further detail here.

Hamilton County sheriffs are rolling out a three-phase plan to move homeless squatters out of county buildings and especially the Hamilton County Courthouse, where much of the city’s homeless population has been sleeping and defecating. Sheriffs will first set up bathrooms, such as portable potties, and try to identify the needs of the squatters and whether they should be connected to mental health or other services; during the month of the first phase, homeless people will be allowed to remain in the buildings. Then sheriffs will get more strict and forcibly remove people but still connect them to special services. Finally, the affected buildings will be cleaned up.

An upcoming report will likely place legislators and police and fire officials in conflict over the state’s police and fire pension system. Supporters of the pension system claim it’s financially stable, but a state consultants predicted that an actuarial report will soon show the pension system is failing to make its required commitments and will be unable to play for health care benefits beyond 15 years. Despite the problems, pension officials say they want to avoid more changes until the most recent changes are in place for one year. The most recent reforms will be officially in place for one year on July 2014, but they won’t show up on actuarial reports until late 2015, which means further changes would have to be held off until 2016 at the earliest under pension officials’ suggestion.

A lengthy, scathing report from the state’s independent prison watchdog found skyrocketing violence and drug use, high staff turnover and low staff morale at the Toledo Correctional Institution.

Two private organizations and the city of Cincinnati are working to place 21 bike share stations with 10 bicycles each in Over-the-Rhine and downtown Cincinnati by spring 2014.

The reason reported mayoral primary results seemed to stall midway through counting: a memory card mix-up. Hamilton County Board of Elections Director Amy Searcy says the memory cards were never in an insecure environment, but some memory cards were locked up and left behind, while others were accidentally taken to a warehouse instead of the Board of Elections.

At four times their usual number, bats are forcing health officials to recommend rabies vaccinations and other disease-avoiding precautions to people in Kenton County in northern Kentucky.

Cincinnati’s largest mall, currently known as Forest Fair Village and previously named Cincinnati Mall, Cincinnati Mills and Forest Fair Mall, is apparently not for sale, despite early reports from The Business Courier.

Social robots can easily replace humans as dogs’ best friend, according to a new study in Animal Recognition.

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<![CDATA[National Conservative Groups Attack State Energy Standards]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers ]]>

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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff ]]>

Ohio death row inmate Billy Slagle, who was scheduled to be executed on Aug. 7 was found hanged in his cell on Sunday.

Slagle, who fatally stabbed his neighbor 17 times in 1987, was recently denied clemency by Gov. John Kasich, despite a rare request from prosecutors to have his death sentence commuted to life in prison. CityBeat last week covered the situation here.

The restraining order granted last month to Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, the gay Ohio couple who in July flew to Maryland to officially tie the knot after 20 years of marriage, is set to expire today, meaning the judge overseeing the case must either renew the restraining order or issue a preliminary injunction. Arthur, who suffers from debilitating ALS, a neurological disease, is not expected to live much longer, which is why the two are fighting for their marriage to be recognized in their home state; in the case of Arthur’s death, Obergefell wants to be rightfully listed as his “surviving spouse.”

The first in-vitro hamburger, made of edible beef cells without actually killing a cow, was served today in London. According to food experts, the mouthfeel is similar to a conventional hamburger, but the traditional fatty flavor is still lacking. 

A pool of mosquitoes in Dayton's Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark has tested positive for the West Nile virus, the first in the region this season. 

Two Pennsylvania children have been prevented from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives under the terms of a gag order issued to their family in a settlement from drilling company Range Resources, who offered the children's family $750,000 to relocate from their fracking-polluted home, where they suffered from "burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and earaches" and other ailments as a result of their proximity to Range's drilling. 

It's Shark Week, y'all.

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<![CDATA[Report: Ohio’s Fracking Protections Fall Short]]>

A report released today suggests Ohio taxpayers could be on the hook for costs if something goes wrong at an oil and gas drilling operation.

The report from advocacy group Environment Ohio looks at the costs related to “fracking,” an extraction technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water underground to unlock oil and gas reserves.

Recent technological advancements have spurred a boom in fracking, leading to hundreds of new wells in Ohio and thousands more around the nation.

When oil and gas companies obtain a permit to build a fracking well, they typically have to provide some financial assurance to the state in case something goes wrong. In Ohio, that assurance comes through bonds and specific insurance requirements.

If a well operation is completed without a problem, the cost of the bonds is returned to the operator. If something goes wrong, the company has to fix the mess before it gets its money back.

But Environment Ohio finds companies in Ohio only have to secure $5,000 in upfront bonds per well. That’s not enough for a company to fear the financial consequences of a disaster, which means it could act recklessly with little disincentive, according to the report.

The report says that could pose a huge cost to taxpayers: Simply reclaiming a well and its property can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Actually paying for damages, such as contaminated groundwater and ruined roads, can cost millions.

Under normal circumstances, private and public entities could sue for the damages, but that’s unrealistic if a well operator goes bankrupt or is otherwise unwilling or incapable of paying.

Another potential problem: The bond payments are only held by the state until a well is plugged and the site is reclaimed to the satisfaction of state operators. That doesn’t account for health and environmental damages that can surface after a drilling operation ends, according to the report.

The issues are further compounded by loopholes, which allow companies to avoid bonding requirements altogether if they prove they hold a certain amount of in-state assets. Environment Ohio calls it an exceedingly easy test to meet.

In what it calls common sense reforms, Environment Ohio says the state should impose more assurances for longer periods of time. The organization favorably cites other states that require $250,000 in upfront bonds — much higher than Ohio’s $5,000. For companies, that would mean a much higher financial hurdle when taking on a fracking project, but the high cost could provide a powerful incentive to avoid dangerous risks.

The report also finds that insurance requirements in the state are weak, with operators required to fulfill a $5 million liability cap regardless of whether they’re running one well or 100.

The organization recommends Ohio work to build stricter financial and regulatory safeguards.

“At a minimum, Ohio needs an adequate severance tax to fund impacts on communities and provide a cushion for long-term risk management,” said Wendy Patton, director at left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement released by Environment Ohio.

An oil and gas severance tax was suggested by Republican Gov. John Kasich to pay for income tax cuts, but Republican legislators rejected the proposal.

The report’s findings were not exclusive to Ohio. It also found issues and suggested solutions for other states and the federal government, including a similar call for stronger bonding requirements on federal lands.

CityBeat covered the fracking boom and its effects on Ohio in further detail here.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff ]]>

Construction to renovate the former IGA in Clifton's Gaslight district will come to a halt soon, and the future for the building remains uncertain; contractors told the Enquirer they'd finish working on the roof and then pull off the project. Steve Goessling, who purchased the property when it was vacated two years ago, says he plans on continuing to build out the building, but he doesn't have the $4.1 million he needs to make it happen. He recently hired Cassidy Turley to market the property to higher-end grocery chains.

It’s Monday, the most un-fun, unhappy day of the week. But smile: Here are 18 signs you’re doing better than you think.

The attorney general for the state of Missouri, Chris Koster, is talking about bringing back the use of gas chambers on death row inmates because he's worried about the state running out of lethal injection drugs.

Cincinnati had an entire month's worth of rainfall over the past week — 3.75 inches as of Sunday. The norm for July is 3.76 inches.

A near-record algae bloom is ensconcing the popular beaches of a coastal Chinese city with thick, bright green “sea lettuce,” as the locals call it. It’s not harmful to humans, but it does suffocate the marine life and kind of scares away tourists.

Two men with HIV now appear to now be virus-free after they received stem-cell transplants to treat their lymphoma.

Researchers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute combed through 18,000 hours of deep-sea video footage and found the ocean seafloor around Monterey Bay is covered in trash.

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<![CDATA[Cincinnati March Against Monsanto to Take Place Saturday]]> “It’s time to take back our food,” boasts the Facebook page for the first ever March Against Monsanto, a worldwide protest movement aimed at speaking out against genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The march, being held on six continents and in 36 countries, will take place this Saturday. Cincinnati is one of 250 cities slated to host marchers this weekend.

Monsanto, a large corporation with a self-described focus of “producing more, conserving more and improving lives," focuses on innovation in agricultural production and claims to have “an eye on the future.” Included in their Sustainable Yield Initiative of 2008 are the benefits of biotechnology, or the genetic modification of farmed products. The March Against Monsanto will be held to combat this process, as well as other practices like Monsanto’s efforts to overturn European Union regulation on obligatory labeling. The march’s primary organizer, Tami Monroe Canal, says she started the movement because she was concerned for her daughters’ lives.

“I feel Monsanto threatens their generation’s health, fertility and longevity,” she explains. “I couldn’t sit by idly, waiting for someone else to do something.”

A precursor meeting announcement for the Cincinnati march emphasizes that this movement is not a “fist waving” event. Says the Cincinnati organizer Dana Haan, “It is a peaceful yet assertive demonstration in which we evoke public awareness of what is happening with Monsanto and our food and the future of it.”

Organizers throughout the United States are calling on participants to bring handouts that explain GMO processes in fact form, with “no slandering, no opinions or paper — just facts.” March participants are striving to prove that the genetic modification of foods is more detrimental than beneficial to individual health, citing studies conducted on GMOs that suggest the presence of pesticides in some modified products, as well as evidence that consumption of GMOs leads to cancer, infertility and birth defects.

With more than 100,000 likes on Facebook and an event list ranging from Boulder, Colo., to Cairo, Egypt, support for the March Against Monsanto has skyrocketed since its inception in February of this year. Advocating not only an end to GMOs but also various solutions for achieving this goal, March leaders assert that they will continue to expose Monsanto’s secrets, “taking to the streets to show the world and Monsanto that we won’t take these injustices quietly.”

The Cincinnati march will take place at Piatt Park at 1 p.m. For more information, visit the MAM Facebook page or the MAM website.

Correction: This story originally gave the wrong location and time in the sub-headline.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff]]>

With a set of initiatives unanimously approved last week, City Council is looking to join the state in combating Cincinnati’s human trafficking problem. The initiatives would evaluate local courts’ practices in human trafficking and prostitution cases and study the need for more surveillance cameras and streetlights at West McMicken Avenue, a notorious prostitution hotspot. Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, who spearheaded the initiatives, says the West McMicken Avenue study will serve as a pilot program that could eventually branch out to other prostitution hotspots in Cincinnati, including Lower Price Hill and Camp Washington.

Medicare data released yesterday revealed charges and payments can vary by thousands of dollars depending on the hospital, including in Cincinnati. Health care advocates and experts attribute the price disparity to the lack of transparency in the health care system, which allows hospitals to set prices without worrying about typical market checks. CityBeat previously covered the lack of health care price transparency in Ohio here.

Duke Energy is the No. 1 utility company polluter in the nation, according to new rankings from Pear Energy. The rankings looked at carbon dioxide emissions, which directly contribute to global warming. Pear Energy is a solar and wind energy company that competes with utility companies like Duke Energy, but the methodology behind the rankings was fairly transparent and based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data.

Commentary: “Republicans Continue Voter Suppression Tactics.”

City Council approved form-based code yesterday, which Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls has been working on for years. In a statement, Qualls’ office called form-based code an “innovative alternative to conventional zoning” that will spur development. “Cincinnati now joins hundreds of cities that are using form-based code to build and reinforce walkable places that create value, preserve character and are the bedrock of Cincinnati neighborhoods’ competitive advantage,” Qualls said in the statement.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner is looking to amend the Ohio budget bill to add a $100 million voucher program that would cover preschool for three- and four-year-olds. The details of the program are so far unclear, but Lehner said she might put most of the funding on the second year of the biennium budget to give the state time to prepare proper preschool programs. If the amendment proceeded, it would join recent efforts in Cincinnati to open up early education programs to low- and middle-income families. CityBeat covered the local efforts and many benefits of quality preschool here.

Gov. John Kasich says he would back a ballot initiative for a mostly federally funded Medicaid expansion, which the Health Policy Institute of Ohio says would insure nearly half a million Ohioans and save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars in the next decade. CityBeat covered the Medicaid expansion in further detail here.

Policy Matters Ohio released a lengthy report yesterday detailing how the state could move towards clean energy and electric cars and calling for more state incentives for clean energy. The report praises Cincinnati in particular for using municipal policies to build local clean energy and keep energy jobs in the city.

The last tenant at Tower Place Mall is moving out.

Scientists are working on a microchip that could be implanted into the brain to restore memories.

They also found proof that seafloor bacteria ate radioactive supernova dust.

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<![CDATA[Duke Energy Tops List of Worst Utility Company Polluters ]]> 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.

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<![CDATA[Morning News and Stuff ]]> The National Rifle Association (NRA) will name Alabama lawyer Jim Porter its new president at their annual meeting in Houston this weekend. Porter replaces current president David Keene, whose two-year term is at an end. Porter served as the first vice president of the NRA board for two years and second vice president for another two years. His father, Irvine Porter, was NRA president from 1959-1960, making Jim the first son of a former NRA president to take the gun lobby's highest office. Meet the man who frequently uses the word "ain't" and believes U.S. gun owners are treated like "second-class citizens" here.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre will reportedly continue to hold down the media spotlight. Connecticut Gov. Dannell Malloy recently compared an "out of whack"
LaPierre to "clowns at the circus" in response to LaPierre's criticism over the state's tightened gun control laws

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee yesterday signed legislation making Rhode Island the 10th state in the nation to allow gay marriage and the final of the six New England states to do so.

The city of Cincinnati has ceased Recyclebank, an incentive program encouraging residents to recycle, thanks to low participation rates. You can still redeem your points, though. A new perk program will be launched sometime soon.

Homicide in Cincinnati has increased by 50 percent compared to statistics from the same period last year, according to the Cincinnati Police Department.

In other grim news, the suicide rate among middle-aged Ohioans rose significantly over the past decade, a trend mirrored across the U.S., according to new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, Ohio saw 783 suicides among residents 35 to 64 years old, compared to 517 in 1999. That marks a 41.5 percent increase, significantly higher than the nationwide average of 28 percent.

Art on the Streets and the City of Cincinnati Bike Program are sponsoring The Music Ride tonight as part of Bike Month to celebrate Over-the-Rhine Night at the Cincinnati Symphony. Instruments will be provided, and all age and skill levels are welcome. 

Today marks the kick-off of a weekend full of Flying Pig Marathon celebrations, which, in the aftermath of the Boston bombings, will feature heightened security meaures. If you're planning on driving anywhere around downtown this weekend, be sure to check out road closures first.

The Cincinnati Zoo is holding a “Cutest Baby of All Time: Sweet 16” people’s choice contest. Advancers so far include Gladys the baby gorilla in the "Primate" category and Bernard the King penguin in the "Wings & Things" branch. Today, vote between Joseph the cougar or Savanna the cheetah in the feline bracket.

Speaking of Gladys, she made her public debut in her outdoor yard Tuesday.

We at CityBeat nearly lost our marbles when we lost internet at the office for 24 hours. Meet a man who survived without it for an entire year and lived to talk about it.

Happy Friday: Here is a video of Ryan Gosling smirking a lot and, for a second, shirtless.

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