Environmentalists Attack John Kasich's Energy Plan

by | November 9, 2015

By Jack Torry & Jessica Wehrman

John Kasich's energy plan is aimed at sparking the economy by expanding production, but environmentalists say the Republican presidential candidate's idea would increase pollution and the carbon emissions blamed for climate change.

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

In addition, Kasich called for a one-year freeze on new federal nonsafety regulations, including those that affect the environment, while insisting that federal agencies study whether the financial costs of future rules imposed on industries would outweigh the environmental benefits.

He backs construction of the Keystone XL pipeline -- rejected on Friday by President Barack Obama -- that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries. And he would press to open up oil and gas exploration on millions of acres of federal land, although he would exclude national parks.

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

Nick Akins, chief executive officer of American Electric Power, hailed Kasich's plan as a "true all-of-the-above strategy" with a "focus on keeping energy affordable and reliable."

But environmentalists warn that the Ohio governor's proposals would do nothing to combat global warming.

"John Kasich is a moderate in tone, but not in policy," said Dan Weiss, senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters in Washington. "His plan is a big-oil wish list that would increase carbon pollution and other pollution, ignores the biggest environmental threat to Ohio and the rest of the country, and would increase our dependence on oil."

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

That Kasich would choose energy expansion at the possible expense of the environment is not surprising, even though he has acknowledged that humans play a role in climate change -- although he's unsure how much.

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

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

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

Instead, Kasich is a more comfortable fit with the GOP wing that favors energy expansion. If elected president, he would push for greater production of energy from oil, gas, nuclear, coal and renewable sources. "The bottom line is, we need to dig coal, clean coal and burn coal," said Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association. "He has definitely promoted coal as a resource in this state."

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

"What's his plan?" asked David Scott, past president of the Sierra Club who lives in Columbus. "Burn more fossil fuels? Open Keystone? Attack clean-air and -water protections?

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

Many industries are coming to grips with the reality that even without new federal regulations, as AEP's Akins says, the "transition is moving to a cleaner energy set of resources. We have to be mindful of that."

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

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