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ALEC Attacks Ohio Renewable Energy Standard, Local Newspapers Fail to Show Fossil Fuel Connection

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[Editor's note: I was part of a large group of people, businesses, organizations and policymakers that worked to pass Ohio's renewable energy standard, SB 221. For years we've been working to protect this standard as it's under attack by ALEC and members of the Ohio General Assembly. Frustration is at an all-time high as Ohio is at risk of losing the many benefits of SB 221 including job growth, utility cost savings, a cleaner environment and healthier people. Now is the time to strengthen Ohio's investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, not diminish all the hard work and progress of the last decade. Help stop Ohio's renewable energy law from being dismantled by signing this Ohio Environmental Council petition.]

Ohio Energy Standards Require Utilities Increase Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency. In 2008, Ohio passed an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) which includes both renewable energy and energy efficiency requirements. The standards mandate for the state's utilities to source 12.5 percent their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and to utilize energy efficiency projects to achieve 22 percent in energy savings by the end of 2025.

ALEC, connects corporations to legislators that work together to draft model legislation promoting "limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level." Photo credit: Media Matters for America

Senate Bill 310 Would Freeze Energy Standards Indefinitely. On March 28, Sen. Troy Balderson (R-Zanesville) introduced a bill to the Senate Public Utilities Committee that would freeze the energy efficiency and renewable standards to their current standing at one fifth of the 2025 goal. Senate Bill 310 (SB 310) would halt the standards and create an "Energy Mandates Study Committee."

Senator Bill Seitz Introduced Similar Legislation Last Year To Gut The "Enviro-Socialist" Mandates. In 2013, Sen. Bill Seitz, who is President of the Senate Public Utilities Committee, introduced a bill that would "effectively gut" the clean energy standards, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Seitz put the bill on hold when he realized that it didn't have enough support to pass, but he promised to continue his fight on the standards, which he has called "enviro-socialist" and compared to "Joseph Stalin's five-year plan."

Clean Energy Attack Part Of Coordinated Nationwide, Fossil Fuel-Funded Effort

American Legislative Exchange Council Connects Fossil Fuel Interests to LegislatorsThe American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, connects corporations to legislators that work together to draft model legislation promoting "limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level." Their "Private Enterprise Advisory Council" includes fossil energy powerhouses such as Koch Industries, Energy Future Holdings, Peabody Energy and ExxonMobil.

ALEC Coordinated a Nationwide Attack On Renewable Standards in 2013. In 2013, ALEC attempted to push through at least 37 bills attempting to dismantle or weaken state-wide renewable energy standards across the country. As reported in the Huffington Post:

Perhaps the most influential opponent is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the conservative nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and corporate interests to develop model legislation. In October 2012, ALEC's board of directors adopted a model bill that the Heartland Institute wrote, called the Electricity Freedom Act. The bill describes RPS as "essentially a tax on consumers of electricity that forces the use of renewable energy sources beyond what would be called for by real market forces" and calls for their repeal. ALEC's list of advisers includes representatives of a number of energy companies that stand to lose money as renewables gain a bigger share of the market, including Peabody Energy, Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil.

Current Bill Resembles Watered-Down Version of ALEC Model Legislation. ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture task force promotes "free-market environmentalism," and has published a list of model policy, including the "Electricity Freedom Act" which "repeals a state's requirement that electric distribution utilities and electric services companies provide a certain percent of their electricity supplies from renewable energy sources by a certain year." The current legislation (SB 310) would freeze the renewable energy and efficiency standards to 2014 levels—approximately one fifth of their 2025 goals—essentially repealing the next 11 years' worth of increases.

Advocates of SB 310 are Directly Connected to ALEC. The Ohio legislators most prominently pushing this bill and other anti-clean energy efforts are directly connected to ALEC:

Ohio Papers Overlook Connection to ALEC

Of 44 Articles in Ohio Newspapers on Clean Energy Battle, Zero Mentioned ALEC. Since Oct. 1, 2013, when fall hearings on the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) were starting to pick up, top Ohio newspapers—including Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and Dayton Daily News—have reported on the topic 44 times. They did not mention ALEC's influence once, even though Sen. Seitz, an ALEC Board Member, was quoted or mentioned in 32 of those articles:

Columbus Dispatch did publish one editorial on May 5, 2013 (outside the period of our study) that mentioned the connection between ALEC and the attacks on renewable energy in Ohio:

Opponents of an Ohio rollback have tried to tie the effort to a national push by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative group that brings elected officials and businesses together to write legislation. Seitz is a member of the group's board of directors.

Ohio's Energy Standards are Widely Supported, a Boon to the Economy

Report: Thanks to Standards, Consumers Pay 1.4 Percent Less on Their Utility Bill. A report commissioned by Advanced Energy Economy Ohio Institute (AEEO) and carried out by Ohio State University's The Center for Resilience modeled what Ohio's energy demand, costs, and emissions would have been if the AEPS were not enacted in 2008. They found that the benefits of Senate Bill 221 (SB 221) have more than offset the costs, as efficiency tactics have reduced overall energy demand. Consequently, the standards have reduced electricity bills and stimulated investment:

If SB 221 had not been implemented, we estimate that Ohio's statewide energy demand, electricity costs and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would all have been about 2% higher by 2012. Despite a slight increase in generation costs, SB 221 resulted in a 1.4% reduction in Ohio electricity bills. In addition, increased investments in the energy sector stimulated GDP by $160 million in 2012, and created over 3,200 Ohio jobs in the period from 2008 to 2012.  

The report found further that dismantling the laws, as last fall's Senate Bill 58 (SB 59) would have done, would have drastic negative economic consequences:

Projecting to 2025, we estimate that continuation of current SB 221 provisions will result in lower electricity demand, more jobs created, and less CO2 emissions compared to the modifications proposed under SB 58. The net effect of these differences is an electricity bill 3.7% higher under SB 58 than projected under maintaining the current SB 221 Actual Scenario (AS). This translates into increases of up to $3.94 billion between 2014 and 2025, with average annual increases of $302.8 million. Further maintaining the current provisions in SB 221 will lead to increased investment within Ohio for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, leading to higher employment and lower CO2 emissions.

Energy Policies Have Driven Economic Growth. The Natural Resources Defense Council reported that the AEPS has helped drive the clean energy industry in Ohio, which increased by 8.5 percent from 2007 to 2010, outstripping the rest of the state's economic growth, including adding over 125 thousand jobs in the clean economy.

Yale Study: Majority of Ohioans Support Climate Action and Renewable Portfolio. The clean energy standards were passed almost unanimously in 2008. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication released a study on how Ohio citizens view climate change and policies taken to address it, and found that a large majority support action on climate change, with over half specifically supporting a renewable energy portfolio.

A large majority of Ohioans (83%) say that global warming should be a very high, high, or medium priority for the president and Congress.

At least half of Ohioans want their representatives at all levels of government to do more to address global warming, including Congress (59%), Ohio state legislators (56%), President Obama (54%), Governor Kasich (54%), and local government officials (53%).

[...]

A majority (59%) supports requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources--even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year. Comparatively few (35%) would oppose this policy.

METHODOLOGY: We performed a Nexis search for "renewable energy" or "energy efficiency" or "energy w/3 standards" from Oct. 1, 2013, to April 6, 2014, for the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News, and included only articles that devoted at least one paragraph to Ohio's clean energy policies, omitting letters to the editor. The Toledo Blade, which has the fourth-highest circulation in Ohio, was not included in this study because it is not currently archived in Nexis.

Gabriel Marcus contributed to this report. 

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

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