By Kantele Franko
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - Supporters of sweeping new federal plans to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants said Monday that it could be more difficult - though not impossible - for Ohio to achieve its target reductions if state lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich follow through with their plans on two energy-related bills.
Ohio legislators are expected to act quickly this week on a bill that tries to limit the impact of the federal proposal, which would cut total carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by almost a third by 2030 compared with 2005 levels. States may get several years to submit plans to cut pollution under the rule, which is a key part of President Barack Obama's plans to reduce pollution linked to global warming.
An Ohio bill whose sponsor cites bipartisan support would require that any power-plant performance plan Ohio submits to the federal government protect the affordability and reliability of electricity and minimize effects on industrial, commercial and residential consumers. A committee of lawmakers is scheduled to vote on the measure today, and it is likely to be considered by the full House soon thereafter.
"It's kind of a delicate dance because the Ohio EPA has to reconcile itself to what the federal EPA is doing," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta. "But within that context, we just want to make sure that Ohio asserts the control that we can."
Thompson said it is destructive to the Appalachian communities he represents in eastern Ohio every time a coal-fired power plant shuts down because the area remains heavily dependent on coal jobs.
The federal proposal calls for Ohio, which gets two-thirds of its electricity from coal, to reduce pollution by 28 percent compared with 2012 levels.
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler said the agency needs to fully understand what that means.
"We are, of course, concerned with anything that could hurt Ohio's economy at a time when we are just beginning to get back on track," Butler said in a statement.
Kasich's spokesman didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Obama's plan was announced Monday, days after Ohio's Legislature voted to put Ohio's renewable and advanced energy standards on hold for two years as a legislative committee studies the issue. Kasich has said he'll sign that bill.
Environmental and clean energy advocates say renewables could help Ohio meet the pollution reduction target and that shying away from that is a step in the wrong direction, one that might push the state more toward natural gas to fuel power.
"At a time when many other states are moving forward with investments in clean energy, renewables and energy efficiency, Ohio is moving backward," said Steve Frenkel, Midwest director for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who was in office when Ohio's renewable energy standards were enacted, said before the federal plan was released that he thinks it is achievable and necessary for creating a healthier environment. But he said he will urge the Obama administration and Congress to be sensitive to the proposal's effects on coal mine and power plant employees and their communities.
"I know there's going to be cries of doom and gloom," said Strickland, president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the advocacy arm of a Washington think tank. "Utilities are going to say it's going to cost us so much money and rates are going to go up, and, you know, we're going to hear the same kind of special interests complaining that usually accompanies any effort to improve our environment in any way."
Environmental advocates say the plan will protect people's health, lead to innovation and boost the economy.