Governor Kasich’s Commitment to Renewable Energy in Doubt
Governor Kasich has been ambiguous regarding his support for renewable energy as far back as his campaign for governor. Even at his high-profile Energy Summit in the fall of 2011, when the governor announced his intention to craft a comprehensive overhaul of Ohio energy policy, Gov. Kasich largely avoided the question of whether he sought to expand or contract Ohio’s commitment to renewable energy—and whether he supported continued investment in renewable energy at all.
A week after Gov. John Kasich’s power commission, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), voted to send the developers of the largest solar farm east of the Rockies back to the drawing board, the governor has kept quiet on the project and questions about his administration’s support of clean energy. This comes even as PUCO’s chairman Todd Snitchler has become embroiled in controversy regarding a series of tweets revealing skepticism of the scientific consensus around global warming and a bias against clean energy.
“It speaks volumes about Governor Kasich that he would appoint a chairman of the PUC who is so out of touch of with the opinions of Ohio’s citizens on renewable energy,” said Julian Boggs of Environment Ohio, pointing to public opinion polls indicating overwhelming support for increased investment in solar power.
Gov. Kasich has been ambiguous regarding his support for renewable energy as far back as his campaign for governor. Even at his high-profile Energy Summit in the fall of 2011, when the governor announced his intention to craft a comprehensive overhaul of Ohio energy policy, Gov. Kasich largely avoided the question of whether he sought to expand or contract Ohio’s commitment to renewable energy—and whether he supported continued investment in renewable energy at all. In a move opposed by environmental organizations and the wind industry, Gov. Kasich pushed a bill through the legislature last spring that allowed fossil-fuel based cogeneration technologies to qualify for renewable energy credits at the expense of true renewable energy generation.
All this has left renewable energy advocates uneasy about support for clean energy from the governor’s office.
“The citizens of Ohio deserve to know whether or not Governor Kasich believes Ohio should move forward on renewable energy and whether he supports or rejects solar energy in Ohio. This project would have generated enough solar energy to power 30,000 homes, and put Ohio on the map as a regional leader on solar energy. Now, this decision cast a dark cloud over the future of solar and all clean energy in Ohio,” said Boggs.
Boggs rejected the recent implication by Gov. Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols that PUCO should be immune to public scrutiny. “The Public Utilities Commission wields enormous power when it comes to the direction of energy policy in Ohio,” Boggs said. “There should be more, not less, sunshine on PUCO decisions. Governor Kasich can and should be held accountable for the decisions of his appointees.”
Though the PUCO is nominally an independent commission, Chairman Snitchler was appointed to his role by Gov. Kasich and has emerged a top energy advisor to the administration. Upon accepting the appointment to PUCO, Chairman Snitchler said a large part of his decision was based on what he saw as an “opportunity to work in tandem with a very dynamic governor."
The PUC regulates Ohio’s four investor-owned utilities, which together occupy the majority of Ohio’s electricity market. One of PUCO’s most important roles in the coming years will be the implementation of Ohio’s energy efficiency standard, which requires that utilities help their customers invest in cost-saving efficiency measures and has already saved Ohio consumers millions on their utility bills. PUCO has broad power over the methods that utilities use to meet or exceed the state’s efficiency goals.
Gov. Kasich is set to make another appointment to PUCO in the coming weeks as he replaces renewable energy and energy efficiency proponent Commissioner Cheryl Roberto, who retired in December. “It will be telling to see how the governor balances out his commission,” said Boggs.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.