East Liverpool and the Unforgiving Economy of Rural Appalachia

About 100 miles Southeast of Cleveland, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, along the Ohio River sits the small city of East Liverpool, Ohio. Once known as the pottery capitol of the world, many of the China and glassware factories have closed, as have the steel mills where many East Liverpool residents once worked. In its heyday during World War II, almost 50,000 people lived in East Liverpool. Today the city’s population tops off at just above 10,000.

Nearly 30 percent of all residents live below the poverty level. The per capita income is just more than $16,000. The unemployment rate is 13 percent. It’s a city where almost every second or third house seems to be abandoned, and not just abandoned. Some are burnt out. Some are falling down. The locals talk about the incessant and merciless drug traffic. They say dealers have come up to the city from the east coast – having found a robust market for heroin and other opiates. The drug trade wreaks constant havoc on the streets. In late September, five people were shot there in a single night.

East Liverpool enjoys another dubious honor: a staggeringly high cancer rate. In 2009, data showed that East Liverpool’s cancer rate is 615.8 people per 100,000. The Ohio average is 450.4.

East Liverpool and the tiny towns and villages that surround it are part of the forgotten rural poor in America. Devoid of all economic opportunity, they’ve become a dumping ground for the detritus of the global economy while simultaneously fueling it by providing coal, oil and natural gas.

If you haven’t heard of East Liverpool, don’t be too hard on yourself. Until about a year ago, I hadn’t either. My job as an organizer for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative took me there. I joined the OOC to start organizing communities affected by fracking, the process of extracting oil and gas from shale formations deep within the Earth. As I began exploring the rural areas of Eastern Ohio, a colleague introduced me to three men – one in his seventies, two in their eighties – who had been fighting for environmental justice for East Liverpool since the 1980s: Alonzo Spencer, Virgil Reynolds and Mike Walton. Each has been seeking justice for their community. They are the remnants of a once robust movement to shut down the hazardous waste incinerator that was finally constructed in 1994.

They still write letters to the EPA, the governor and anyone else they can think of. They are seeking answers about an ash plume emitted from the incinerator last summer. The ash coated the homes and cars in the surrounding area. No one has given them an explanation. Meanwhile the cancer cases continue to mount. A friend and coworker of mine from East Liverpool knows 12 people who suffer or passed away from blood or bone cancer. In a city this small – this is outrageous.

The common notion is that Democrats are environmentalists and Republicans are not. But the Clinton family and administration had a hand in constructing and protecting the incinerator. Friends and former colleagues of President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were the incinerator’s initial investors. Despite countless violations on it’s permit, the Clinton administration allowed the incinerator to be constructed – 1100 feet from an elementary school, in the middle of an African American neighborhood, on a flood plane along the Ohio River.

Indeed, as the area surround East Liverpool de-industrialized and residents could not longer find work that pays a living wage, the area’s main industry seems to be waste disposal and resource extraction. Across the river in Beaver County PA is a coal ash impoundment pond affectionately known as “Little Blue,” possibly because it literally glows neon blue. There are more than 600 permits for horizontal fracking wells within 50 miles of the city (NOTE: That’s in Ohio only, if you include western Pennsylvania it’s more like 1,300) . Just south of it, in the equally stressed village of Wellsville, cancer-causing silica sand used for fracking operations is stored in huge uncovered piles just several hundred feet from a residential neighborhood. Down river in Jefferson County is First Energy’s dilapidated Coal Fire Power Plant WH Sammis – which the EPA says is one of Ohio’s top five polluters. Meanwhile, a University of Cincinnati study has shown that the levels of manganese emissions in East Liverpool are at a dangerous level and have led to learning disabilities and cognitive problems among the area’s children. And we all wonder why poor folks living in areas like these just can’t get a job and make something of themselves?

I’m not from East Liverpool. I am not poor, nor have I ever known poverty. I grew up in a comfortable suburb far from the shootings, drug trade and hazardous waste incinerators. I am the granddaughter of poor Irish immigrants who came to Cleveland in the 1920s for economic opportunity and political freedom. My grandfather got a WPA job under President Roosevelt during the New Deal. He was a laborer who helped build the Terminal Tower. He eventually got a union job at the Cleveland Graphite Bronze Factory. He took three busses to work every day, but made enough money to send his seven kids to Catholic school (It only cost $12 for each child to attend.) They lived in the bottom apartment of a double on West 93rd Street, often sleeping several children to a bed and my mother on the couch in the living room. Life was hard for my mom’s family – but each and every one of those seven children joined the ranks of at least the middle class. My uncles served in the military, and the GI bill sent them to college and law school. One uncle became a Vice President at both Notre Dame and Ohio State University and another became a judge in Cuyahoga County. My mom received her master’s degree from Boston College.

Not only was the social safety net present, but my family was not exposed to the same level of concentrated toxic contamination. Cleveland’s air quality was bad when my mom was a child in the 1950s and ‘60s – but the economic opportunities she had gave her a fighting chance to move someplace healthier. Few people in East Liverpool have that chance. Those that did are already gone.

My family is smart and driven – but no more so than many of the people I have met in East Liverpool. The difference is, we benefitted from a more robust social safety net, unions and economic opportunity. Without access to public transportation, my grandfather wouldn’t have been able to make it to work. Without a union, he wouldn’t have made a living wage. Without the programs put in place under the New Deal, my struggling young grandparents and their children might not have climbed out of poverty.

In poor neighborhoods across America, rural and urban alike, we must return to investing in our people. Without the New Deal, there would be no Caitlin Johnson – of this I am certain. It’s time to realize that dream for all Americans. And it’s time to move to a new economy – one based on investing in people, not investing in resource extraction and waste disposal. The areas richest in natural resources should not be the areas most plagued by crippling poverty. It doesn’t add up. The patterns are far too clear for us to continue blaming individual behavior when the game appears to be rigged in favor of nameless, faceless corporations.

By Caitlin Johnson

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Milwaukee's Effort to Build a New Industry Around Clean Water

The three lake sturgeon in Discovery World’s “touch tank” aren’t given official names, but that hasn’t kept at least one employee in this newish Milwaukee educational center from christening them female superhero names like Tank Girl and She-Ra. As a Michigan native, I’d heard of Sturgeon before, but I wasn’t prepared to fall for them the way I did when I put my hand in the tank.

Sturgeon are big – in the wild, they’ve been known to reach up to seven feet long. And they’re unlike any other fish I’d seen. Their rough skin is scale-less and their spine is bony like dinosaurs you’ve seen pictured in kids’ books. In fact, sturgeon have been around for at least 200 million years. It’s a mind-blowing story of survival.

Tank Girl and She-Ra swam right up to my still hand, rubbing against it as they passed over and over, like a cat might. Perhaps they were just hoping for food or were bored from swimming endless laps in their tank, but the woman overseeing the aquarium that afternoon likes to muse on the possibility that they get some pleasure from being touched.

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Photo: Riveredge Nature Center

Sturgeon have been around since the Cretaceous, but it took no time for humans to decimate their populations in the Milwaukee River by the early 1900s. Now, thanks to nearly a decade of stocking efforts by Riveredge Nature Center and Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, the fish is coming back. “Sturgeon Fest” draws Milwaukeeans to the mouth of the river to release hundreds of tagged fish into Lake Michigan every autumn. It’ll be several years before they’re able to spawn on their own, but the whole region is pulling for them.

The sturgeon’s fragile comeback mirrors the city’s own. More than any other Great Lakes city, Milwaukee is prioritizing the value of the water in its midst. Could it base its economy on the protection of a resource rather than its exploitation? Its first forays into this concept point to “yes”.

Near the site of Sturgeon Fest is the University of Wisconsin’s brand new School of Freshwater Sciences building. I had a chance to visit the school in early October with the members of Rachel’s Network who were holding a conference on – what else? – water. The women of Rachel’s Network hail from around the country, but all share a passion for (and ability to) fund impactful environmental projects.

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM's new School of Freshwater Sciences building

A tug pushing coal in front of UWM’s new School of Freshwater Sciences building

We travelled to the school along the Inner Harbor, aboard the UWM research vessel Neeskay. Decades of industrial misuse were on display. The school itself is sandwiched between gigantic storage tanks filed with foul-smelling asphalt on one side and a huge pile of coal bound for the city’s power station on the other.

The choice to site the school here is a testament to Milwaukee and UWM’s faith in the future. When professors and students look out their wide classroom windows on the second floor of the school, they don’t see the hundreds of acres of brownfields and unsightly heavy industry: they see the potential for a new economy built on social and ecological sustainability. Efforts are now underway to redevelop the Inner Harbor in this vision.

The amount of collaboration that happens in this city is enviable. Urban farming pioneer Will Allen collaborates with UWM on aquaponics. The Water Council, a collection of innovative water companies, counts the Metro Milwaukee Sewarage District among its members. Small businesses like Lakefront Brewery work with environmental nonprofits and Discovery World to advocate for clean water. Milwaukee’s new water economy is a remarkably cohesive effort.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Lakefront Brewery President Russ Klisch appeared on the front page of the Journal Sentinel the day after we toured his brewery.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee's water community is very collaborative.

Meghan Jensen of the Water Council, Ann Brummitt of Milwaukee Water Commons, Karen Sands of Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and Lynde Uihlein. Milwaukee’s water community is very collaborative.

All this work could be undermined, of course, by forces like federal and state politics and climate change that are beyond the city’s control. Water rights advocate Maude Barlow gave Rachel’s Network a sobering picture of extreme energy development and transportation that’s ramping up around the Great Lakes, from bitumen (tarsands) shipments on lake freighters to growing capacity on pipelines like one Enbridge line that runs the length of Wisconsin and the aging Line 5 that carries oil and gas right under the Straits of Mackinac.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

The coal-fired Edgewater Generating Station mars an otherwise beautiful Lake Michigan coastline in Sheboygan.

Environmental engineer David Flowers talks about the natural sewage system he designed at Riveredge. Wetlands and underground cisterns treat water coming from the facilities.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

An interactive model of the Great Lakes at Discovery World.

Great Lakes residents take water abundance for granted. But this abundance is far from guaranteed in the future, says Jenny Kehl, UWM’s Chair of the School of Freshwater Sciences. Many regions of the country are already experiencing serious water scarcity and the Great Lakes will become an obvious place to make up the difference. The system’s recharge rate is only 1 percent. Harvest anything more than that, and (heaven forbid) you might have an Aral Sea on your hands.

Some of the best days of my life have been spent along and on these restorative inland seas. I’ve climbed dunes in Saugatuk at sunset and fished with my dad on Lake Huron. I’ve wandered the shore with my inquisitive nieces and nephew, searching for stones and feathers and fish skeletons. To think this is all at risk is a terrifying proposition.

Although we arrived in Milwaukee after Sturgeon Fest concluded, Riveredge Nature Center allowed me to “adopt” one of their released sturgeon. Should the fish tagged with #985120030644058 be found and scanned somewhere, I’ll receive notification. I’m hoping like hell that fish comes back to spawn someday, and that when it does, Milwaukee’s fledgling water ethic will have caught on around the Great Lakes.

By Erica Flock and originally published at Negwegon.


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King James Returns to a Battered Kingdom

Inside of a short but salutary week, Northeast Ohio received a seemingly huge boost. Cleveland was chosen to host the 2016 Republican National Convention, and Lebron James announced he would be returning “home” to once again play with the Cavaliers.

The James’ announcement very quickly lit up newswires across the country, and Lebron’s gleaming visage graced the covers of sports pages everywhere. The vitriol and vindictiveness of four years ago melted away. Rabid fans arrived at James’ Bath Township home, shirtless and roaring the name of the “King.” The White House even weighed in, with President Obama referring to Lebron as a “fine young man.”

James does seem to be much more thoughtful than most athletes of his age, but one wonders what he makes of this outpouring. America has of course long been beholden to the superstar athlete of the moment and to the world of professional sports in general. My generation was weaned on the omnipresent face of “Air Jordan,” and countless children aspired to be “like Mike.” We give lip service to the fireman, the teacher and the small business owner, but athletes are our gods come down from on high.

Northeast Ohio, however, is very vulnerable to clinging to whatever good news comes its way, especially when it comes in the shape of an athlete.

For well over half of a century, this region has been pummeled by the vagaries of capital and by the uncaring God of Globalism. Entire ways of life and entire communities vanished as the stature of Cleveland, Youngstown, Akron and Canton collapsed. Ever since, citizens, jobs and capital have fled the rotting city cores— headed for first for the suburbs and then for somewhere, anywhere, far from this corner of Ohio.

While columnists are tallying up the victories of this past week, our cities, neighborhoods and futures remain imperiled. The truth is simple: Northeast Ohio is on the ropes.

If one glances at a map of the region from 1970, and then one from the 21st century, a startling picture emerges. The once rural areas between Cleveland and Akron, and Akron and Canton, are mostly gone. An ugly, sprawling virus of suburban sprawl now completely disfigures once coherent urban cores.

In “Measuring Sprawl 2014,” a recent report issued by Smart Growth America, our region fared particularly poorly. Out of 221 metros, Cleveland, Youngstown and Akron ranked 153rd, 175th, and 111th, respectively.

At the same time, Cuyahoga, Summit, Stark and Mahoning County all lost population between 2000 and 2010. In the past forty years, Northeast Ohio as a whole has lost almost ten percent of its population.

Once bucolic suburbs that lured upwardly mobile residents are now being deserted for even more sparsely populated exurbs further out. And more and more communities are aging and shrinking, while still having to maintain increasingly decrepit infrastructure.

The good news is downtown Cleveland is filling up—and that even the once bustling central business districts in Canton, Akron and Youngstown are coming alive again. However, the twin horsemen of sprawl and abandonment rampaging throughout the region have more than canceled that out.

In Cleveland, housing prices have collapsed in an unimaginably staggering way. Home sale prices dropped over 60 percent between the years 2006 to 2013 in Cleveland and over 80 percent in East Cleveland during the same time period.

Abandoned housing is now a problem everywhere. The Plain Dealer has called the spread of vacant properties a “persistent drag on Greater Cleveland’s economy”. But worse than that, the explosion in abandoned properties is now imperiling the entire region.

The Northeast Sustainable Communities Consortium estimates 18 houses PER DAY will go abandoned in the region for at least the next quarter century. This trend will more than likely put Northeast Ohio out of business as an economically competitive area. King James is returning to a shrinking kingdom, no longer sure of itself or its place in a rapidly changing era. The constant movement of people out of the center cities and the inner-ring suburbs to the periphery—or out of the region entirely—is placing us at a prime disadvantage. It’s also becoming clear that the Millennials are once again choosing to urbanize. Northeastern Ohio’s cities—trapped in areas that have rapidly decentralized—will be ill equipped to compete for that demographic.

Recently, my father returned here to Northeast Ohio to visit. A visit from my dad is always a wonderful occasion, but it’s also an occasion to hear about what was. Many of his haunts and the places he once knew are gone—with only vacant lots or a decaying building serving as solemn reminders of their passing. Will I someday be leading my own son on a sentimental journey through a landscape of loss?

At this moment, we don’t need to be reminded of the greatness of Lebron James. We need to be reminded that this was once a great region—built by men and women who accepted that they had a social responsibility to preserve their cities and communities. While we’ve indeed been victims of ill-conceived economic and urban policies originating outside of the area, it’s clear that we are also the authors of much of our own misery. When we bemoan the state of our professional sports teams—while ignoring the state of our communities—we invite disaster. Northeast Ohio must prove again that is a serious region filled with capable people. If we do not, nothing will be save us—not even King James.

–By Sean Posey


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Canton: The Once and Future City

Photo: Jon Dawson

To me, Canton, Ohio, is a place that drips memories. I can see and feel them come at me in great waves as I drive down Cleveland Avenue to the still-beating heart of a once great city. Canton: a place I knew as an outsider from the suburbs; a place where I first saw both the solemn ugliness of the world and the gentle beauty of street life. This is a city of wonder and a city of ugliness. Even at its nadir in the 1990s, you knew Canton was a place that many once cared about deeply. I searched endlessly for the origins of those feelings in the dusty downtown and its many architectural wonders. Few my age did the same. The young of my generation held Canton in low regard—a place to, if anything, enjoy with a sense of irony. When I finally left, I didn’t look back. But in my absence Canton began a transformation. No one can say for sure where that transformation is heading, but the city is reorganizing itself despite long odds.

In many ways, the “Hall of Fame City” is the archetypal shrinking city. The beautiful but bruised downtown is surrounded by an inner ring of worn neighborhoods scarred by vacancy. The struggling manufacturing economy in the city’s core is overshadowed by a neglectful and unconcerned suburbia. Canton is struggling to overcome what Catherine Tumber calls “the growing invisibility” of smaller post-industrial cities.

Canton first became notable for producing agricultural machinery. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had become one of the world’s primary manufacturers of paving-bricks. The city later emerged as a big player in the iron and specialty steel industries. Like so many other industrial cities, the population grew in tandem with the plentiful jobs offered in local manufacturing concerns.

By 1950, 116,000 people called Canton home, and the city’s charming downtown had reached its peak. However, unbeknownst to the city fathers, the long descent was already underway. In the next few decades, tracts of farmland in the surfeit of suburbs started to transform into growing communities. The decentralization of retail soon followed. In 1965, the Mellett Mall (later Canton Centre) arrived as the first challenger to the hegemony of the downtown commercial district. But only five years later the suburban Belden Village Mall opened in Jackson Township. This started the process of drawing retail out of the city into the growing hinterlands.

The Canton I came to know in the 1990s had shrunk to about 84,000 people. With a coterie of friends—some from the city and some from the suburbs—I explored the maze of the city’s streets, apartments, and vacant buildings. We were a generation raised on the idea that the city was a foreign place—a place to be rejected. Instead, I found a city beaten and somewhat unrecognizable, but still vibrant. Local institutions like Taggart’s, a pre-war ice cream parlor/restaurant, introduced us to mixed-use development and businesses that weren’t cut from the sterile cloth of fast food franchisedom. Bars like George’s Lounge gave us a place to crash that didn’t bear the imprint of a sterile chain tavern. As manufacturing began to fade, Canton rebranded itself. Known as the city that birthed professional football, Canton hosts the Pro Football Hall of Fame annual induction ceremony and parade. And every July before http://viagrabuy-online24.com/ the festivities the “clean-up” began—an effort to temporarily hide prostitutes and the homeless who haunted the streets from Cherry to Shorb.

At night, that side of Canton came to life. We might often forget, but the city belongs to everyone, from the banker to the bordello worker. And during those years the city belonged maximum dose cialis per day as much to the working class and the “under-class” as it did to anyone. The McKinley Monument—the burial place of President McKinley—and surrounding Monument Park saw the mingling of ravers, viagra generic hustlers, and the disturbed in the humid summer months. Some unseemliness certainly existed, but nothing like what would come with gradual rise of gang culture. Today, a kind of border fence separates the graveyard from the monument, and the park is heavily policed after dark. Homicides and home invasions occur much more regularly. This devolution, sadly, is symbolic of what’s happened to far too many of the city’s core neighborhoods.

Despite Canton’s declining population, the best of the area’s built environment is still in the city: the beautifully restored Victorian Professional Building; the classical the female viagra brick streets of the inner core; and the stately elegance of the historic Ridgewood neighborhood, whose mix of revival-style houses represent American architecture at its height. And the principal cultural institutions in the county are located in the city—the symphony, the ballet, The Player’s Guild, etc.

I often wandered the half-abandoned downtown of the late-90s. The silent splendor of the neo-classical Key Bank Building and the Neo-Renaissance Onesto Hotel served as guideposts for my travels through the dusky streets. Back then, the downtown offered little. An adult bookstore/video arcade even dominated the main entrance into the old commercial district. Only the grandeur of the nearby Palace Theater, a 20’s era movie house, gave any indication of what a joint the downtown must have once been.

The moribund and derelict downtown of the 90s is rapidly giving way to pockets of re-growth. In 2003, the city issued the first downtown development plan. Within a few years an arts district was established. Coffee shops, some retail, and a broad range of new eateries followed—including Muggswigz Coffee, which made USA Today’s “10 best coffeehouses in America” list.

The downtown of the late 90s lacked almost any active edges. Few of the streets seemed lively http://viagrabuy-online24.com/ at all. Today, that’s changing. Despite the fact it is too large –with many gaps that prove unfriendly to pedestrians looking for connections between parts of the downtown—some wonderful blocks have emerged. The art galleries on Sixth are a fine example of what revitalized streets should look like. Even the Subway fast-food joint on Market properly conforms to the street, fitting in perfectly with the other gorgeous storefronts. Still, downtown is only fully activated for a small portion of the year. Blight issues in the corridor and competition from the massive suburban shopping center around Belden Village are holding back the next stage of development.

Canton’s best buildings come from the pre-war era and still show the obvious marks of craftsmanship that separate the city from its surrounding communities—like the aptly named Plain Township. The best of these—the Carnegie Library (done by a Youngstown, Ohio native) and the Stark County Court House, among others—are in the Beaux-Arts style. These civic maste
rpieces convey a sense of history and of destiny—that Cantonians were, and are, a capable people made in the mold of the ancients. These buildings remind us of a once great and future city.

I recently drove down 5th Street for the first time in well over a decade. Even then, the area was distressed and considered “unsafe.” I remember driving passed Martin’s Carryout on the weekends, an improvised bodega that was once obviously a residential unit. Every year it looked a little worse. Today it’s boarded up, and the area around it is becoming an urban prairie dotted with tax credit housing. This is one possible future for Canton. The other is the reactivation—already underway—of the city center. Its likely young Millennials will be the ones who will have to complete this job.

Like much in urban life, walking through the center city is an occasion for both a melancholic and memorable experience. The dreariness of recent decades is still obvious, but so is the weight of a more distant past. The long forgotten memories of the stone masons, steel workers, and craftsmen who built the city are so thick and alive that one can’t help but feel them all around. What would they whisper to this generation? What would they expect from those who have inherited this battered city? The answers are swirling in every alley, storefront, and house along the arteries of Canton. They only wait for us to come and find them.

By Sean Posey



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SB 310 — an Unprecedented Step Backwards for Ohio

On Wednesday, the Ohio Legislature approved a bill to freeze and dismantle the state’s clean energy provisions, making Ohio the first state to roll back its energy conservation and renewable energy standards. A vote on the House floor took place Wednesday, May 28; two weeks after the Ohio Senate passed the corporate polluter giveaways, known as Senate Bill 310. Governor Kasich has indicated that he will sign the legislation on Thursday, May 29.

In 2008, Governor Ted Strickland signed bipartisan clean energy legislation into Ohio law. At the time, it garnered only a single vote of opposition in the Ohio General Assembly. Yet, state lawmakers under pressure from FirstEnergy, and a national organization of major corporations known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have frozen Ohio’s clean energy progress in its tracks.

ALEC members include several of the nation’s biggest coal, oil, gas, and utility companies like American Electric Power, Duke Energy, and ExxonMobil. The group has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to dismantle cost-saving standards in Ohio, as well as in traditionally conservative states like Kansas and North Carolina. For ALEC-board member State Senator Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and Akron-based FirstEnergy, the nation’s largest investor-owned utility, the third time has proven a charm. Throughout the coverage of the bill, Ecowatch was the only Ohio-based media outlet that provided mention or information about ALEC.

The law has raised vocal opposition from environmental advocates, as well as the NAACP, Ohio veterans, consumer advocates, and manufacturers. Yet, Senator Seitz has mused that the 2008 law is a ‘Bataan Death March’ conducted by clean energy interests. These disrespectful comments came during testimony from Sierra Club’s Dan Sawmiller, a combat veteran who served in Iraq. Such remarks from the chair of Ohio’s Senate Public Utilities Committee make it critical the public understands what clean energy standards really dictate.

The 2008 law required utilities, such as FirstEnergy, to implement efficiencies to cut electricity consumption, especially during peak daily electricity demand, which typically occurs at about 5:30pm. This measure, paid by a rider billed to consumers, reduces high-end stress on the electric grid and fossil fuel-burning power plants, reduces air, water, and carbon pollution, and reduces prices for consumers. Naturally, if top-line demand is reduced, prices drop. Former Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Senior Energy Policy Advisor Wilson Gonzalez has testified that consumers save from $1.70 to $3.90 for every dollar they pay on their bill rider.

The law also requires utilities to install renewable generation from wind and solar sources. General Electric recently produced a report for PJM Interconnection, the company overseeing Ohio’s entire electrical grid, stating that PJM’s regional market can reliably handle as much as 30 percent renewable energy while lowering costs for customers.

But lower prices and savings for Ohioans are direct revenue losses for utility monopolies, and FirstEnergy CEO Tony Alexander, who made $23 million in 2013, doesn’t get paid to lose. That is why FirstEnergy has made dismantling the standards their legislative priority since 2012.

A derisive post from the Facebook page of Matt Brakey, of Brakey Energy and the Industrial Energy Users

Alongside a hastily assembled group of golf-playing white men called the Industrial Energy Users, utilities have taken to using their financial and political clout to propel SB 310 through the legislature. With the help of corporate allies in Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Cleveland Partnership, they have drowned out arguments to protect Ohioans’ clean energy savings. Such messaging undermines the great work by small-business advocates- and local best actors on energy efficiency- Council for Small Enterprise (or COSE).

Ohio Senate President Keith Faber quoted in the Columbus Dispatch:

“What we want to do as a legislature is put procedures in place that are based on evidence and science, not based on ideas that happened back when we thought Solyndra was going to be a good investment for the federal government.”

Denying science and the threats of increasingly volatile climate is nothing new for Ohio Republicans, but not even the Solyndra comparison holds water. Iberdola’s Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding Counties was the largest investment in Ohio in 2011 at $600 million. This wind farm currently sells The Ohio State University a quarter of its Columbus campus’ energy needs, agreed to in a contract and saves the university $1 million a year, for 20 years. Ohio wind farms pay $3.6m per year in property taxes, and $2.5m per year in land lease payments to landowners.

“We’ve spent $1.1 billion since 2009 on energy efficiency. … I’m not quite sure what we’ve gotten out of it,” Faber said.

Answer: Energy resources at less than $0.01/kwh (vs. market rate of $.06-.11/kwh). For a local example, the Cleveland Orchestra’s facility manager testified to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that they cut their utility bill in half through FirstEnergy’s efficiency program.

Cost of Saved Energy Results by State chart via LBNL

Read more at cleantechnica.com

Cutting demand through energy efficiency and real-time demand response (i.e. ‘turn off that light’) programs are far and away the cheapest and cleanest ways to make additional energy resources available. When one considers the health benefits of clean energy, such as lowering the incidence of asthma and emissions-related health issues, the 2008 standards are not nearly ambitious enough.

Zach Roberts, Ohio director for Operation Free, a veterans’ group working to address climate change and energy policy has characterized the rollback efforts as a “dramatic and draconian” attack on clean energy. Veterans like Roberts and Sawmiller certainly recognize the consequences of energy policy and conflict. They are also realists who recognize the immense threats of an increasingly volatile climate.

Ohio’s ever-hedging Governor Kasich, in a dubious call for moderation, pared down original legislation to a ‘temporary freeze,’ but has still signed on to provisions that would dismantle Ohio’s clean energy industries. Ohio is the first and only state to roll back its clean energy standards.

Unfortunately, FirstEnergy and ALEC have deep pockets. Campaign contributions tell a story of Northeast Ohio Democrats paid to collaborate with a pro-polluter agenda. Both Senator Shirley Smith and Representative Sandra Williams, running for Smith’s senate seat, have voted for SB 310. Each of them point to their well-intended amendments to protect low-income people, but neither will preserve customers’ on-bill savings, which are derived from energy conservation and renewables. Cleveland’s majority-black east side children suffer from asthma at a rate of nearly 1 in 4, and will actually see a deterioration of local air quality, and steady increase in ozone action days.

Given the true popularity of clean energy and the accompanying savings, it is clear that Ohio is facing a critical test of its democratic values against the power of corporate fossil fuel interests. On Monday, the US EPA is releasing rules to limit carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants. Naturally, the Ohio legislature is mobilizing to opt the state out of reducing Ohio’s emissions.

Due to its high proportion of coal in its energy portfolio, the state of Ohio is the 4th highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the nation. Where more immediate public health is concerned, Ohio is the 2nd highest emitter of mercury in the nation, and Lake Erie the most mercury-polluted of the Great Lakes. (That hasn’t stopped Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman from voting to dismantle standards to reduce mercury pollution.)

Ohio needs to keep expanding affordable clean energy in Ohio, to keep reducing toxic air emissions and carbon pollution, and to preserve its clean energy workforce that stands 30,000-strong. Through the mass organizing efforts of its labor unions and local communities in 2011, Ohio was able to reject SB 5 and the right-to-work for lower wages. Our state now faces a test of accepting global scientific consensus, bucking its polluter monopolies, and securing the public the clean air, clean water, and monthly savings they deserve. If we fail to act now we will be failing our future generations’ health and welfare

By Akshai Singh

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How Big, Taxpayer-Funded Development Works in Cleveland

There are 6 steps:

#1. Powerful individuals decide on a concept for a big project behind closed doors.

#2. They line up the support of a handful of “community representatives” whose support they need. Heretofore, these folks will do all the work of promoting the project.

#3. A “study” is completed, paid for by the powerful people whose idea it was. The study, everyone understands, is to be a marketing tool, not an actual investigation of the project’s merits. No alternative concepts will receive formal study. The “study” will claim the powerful people’s idea will generate thousands of jobs. (As if large amounts of public spending could take place without some jobs being created.)

#4. A sham public process takes place. This is designed not really to incorporate public feedback but to make the process seem democratic and manufacture consent for the concept that was already decided a long time ago behind viagra closed doors.

#5. Our “community representatives” from step 2 do a big media campaign, repeating carefully chosen talking points about how great it will be generic cialis for the city and how many jobs will be produced. The media — which is very much a part of the power structure and answers to the same people — uncritically accepts the claims. When project critics are even acknowledged by the press, their perspective is outnumbered four-to-one by supporters who are on friendly terms with the media representatives.

#6. Clevelanders generally get on board after being inundated with information about how positive the proposal will be. If they don’t get on board, it what happens if a woman takes viagra might not matter anyway. In most cases, the consent of only a few key individuals is needed, and their positions of authority rest on complying with the idea.

The “Opportunity Corridor” and the sin tax extension are both great examples of this. Notice how in this article about the Opportunity Corridor, the ODOT spokesperson points to three changes they made as a result of public feedback. The three changes are so minor, it’s sort of amazing she seems to take pride in pointing them out. But that’s the way the process was designed. They can allow the public a few very minor changes — to make it look like their opinions matter — and really even that they feel like they should be applauded for.

Is this ever going to change? Because honestly, Columbus and Pittsburgh seem to be getting too smart for this kind of bullshit. Is that the difference between a 13 percent college attainment level and a 32 percent?

Theory: Perhaps a feedback loop where civic twitter.com/drjonesbilly “elites” prey on the relative ignorance and desperation of the population, which in turn repels https://twitter.com/drjonesbilly smart people, which makes the population that much more ignorant, desperate and pliable.

Who knows? I’m open to alternative interpretations.

–Angie Schmitt


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In Sports Deals, Pittsburgh is Bizarro Cleveland

Once again, I am completely jaw-to-floor awestruck at how much better managed Pittsburgh is than Cleveland.

The Post Gazette is reporting the city of Pittsburgh spent a year negotiating improvements to Heinz Field. The deal they worked out will add a $1 ticket fee to help pay for a $40 million expansion.

“I am pleased that this project at Heinz Field is being completed without any public dollars, which are increasingly scarce,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

That’s what can happen if city leaders are willing to negotiate with private entities on behalf of the people they represent.

We just witnessed the absolute complete opposite in Cleveland. On the latest $260 million public deal for Cleveland’s pro-sports stadiums, City leaders like Mayor Frank Jackson and City Council President Kevin Kelley busied themselves not with negotiating the terms of the deal. That was approved by County Council just weeks after it was introduced, with no major changes.

Kelley and Jackson joined the sports teams’ side, acting as spokesmen for the teams’ campaign. They argued that if the public didn’t fund 100 percent of the repairs through a sin tax, the teams would be free to just raid the city’s general fund of $260 million under the terms of the lease.

Raid the city’s general fund of $260 million. Can you imagine? The mayor and president of City Council went on television and the radio and suggested that was a real possibility. That they would allow that to happen, rather than go back to the table and try to broker a better deal. Admit they had that power.

Ultimately, a majority of CITY residents voted against the deal. But not a single elected city representative came out against the issue. A near total leadership vacuum. There was no negotiation on the public’s behalf. They rolled out a bad deal quickly, and then got to work convincing voters that they had no other choice.

What Pittsburgh did — that’s how it’s supposed to work. Once again, I am just completely floored. Something is terribly broken in Cleveland.

–Angie Schmitt

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