By Dan Gearino
Gov. John Kasich has vetoed a bill that would weaken the state's clean-energy standards, saying that the measure "amounts to self-inflicted damage to both our state's near- and long-term economic competitiveness."
The action on House Bill 554 was part of a series of vetoes on Tuesday, including a rejection of a $264 million tax break for the oil and gas industry, and a measure that would have created a new mechanism to eliminate state agencies.
In vetoing the energy bill, Kasich defied a House and Senate controlled by fellow Republicans. This slight could be felt as the next General Assembly begins its work. The governor has warned that his upcoming budget will be tight, and Republicans are adding to their majorities in both chambers.
"It is apparent that Gov. Kasich cares more about appeasing his coastal elite friends in the renewable-energy business than he does about the millions of Ohioans who decisively rejected this ideology when they voted for President-elect Trump," said Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, a leading supporter of the bill.
The bill passed the House and Senate this month, but the majorities were not large enough to override a veto.
That said, legislative leaders are leaving open the option of coming back on Thursday for potential override votes on several bills, including the "Heartbeat Bill" that restricts abortion.
"Our members are reviewing the governor's messages and assessing their next steps," said John Fortney, spokesman for Senate Republicans.
The energy bill deals with Ohio rules that say electricity utilities must meet annual standards for investing in renewable energy and for helping customers reduce energy use. The standards have been in place since 2008, interrupted by a soon-to-expire two-year freeze.
Under the just-vetoed bill, the energy standards would have been optional for the next two years, after which the mandates would have resumed.
Kasich said in his veto message that the bill risks hurting the state by taking away some of the energy options that are "most prized by the companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms."
For example, Amazon has invested heavily in the state and supports policies that encourage renewable energy, although Kasich did not name any companies.
Supporters of the bill, such as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, had said standards were too difficult to meet, which would lead to high compliance costs.
Opponents included environmental advocates, clean-energy businesses and consumer advocates.
Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston, a consumer advocate, said the governor's action will save money in the long run because the bill would have diminished programs that encourage energy efficiency.
"Our goal is to reduce what Ohioans pay for electricity," Weston said in an e-mail.
Kasich, who signed the freeze in 2014, has said all year that he would likely oppose legislation that extends the freeze.
But the debate is not over. Seitz, who is moving from the Senate to the House, said he hopes to pass a bill in 2017 that would fully repeal the energy standards.
"With veto-proof majorities next session, we are optimistic of success," he said.
Also on Tuesday, Kasich used his line-item veto to reject a $264 million sales-tax break for the oil and gas industry. The tax provision was tucked into Senate Bill 235 and was passed with little discussion.
"It is unlikely that the General Assembly intended for this item to yield such a significant loss of tax revenue ... to provide even more favorable tax treatment to an industry that is already comparatively lightly taxed," the governor said in his veto message.
In addition, Kasich vetoed Senate Bill 329, which would have set up a process for lawmakers to regularly review whether to eliminate certain state agencies. He said the bill needlessly duplicates an aspect of the budget process, which already allows for eliminating agency budgets.
(c)2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)