A Step Backwards

07/02/2014 05:18 pm ET Updated Sep 01, 2014

Co-authored by Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County Executive and Democratic Nominee for Governor Of Ohio

As Ohio goes, so goes the nation -- and until recently, Ohio led the nation with an energy policy that spurred economic growth in the renewable energy industry and promoted middle class consumer interests. However, this spring that policy ground to a halt as John Kasich became the first governor in the country to freeze state renewable energy and efficiency standards by signing into law Senate Bill 310.

Since Ohio's renewable energy and efficiency standards passed in 2008, they have saved consumers more than $230 million in utility bills. In the next eleven years, the standards were projected to save Ohioans -- nearly half of which are living paycheck to paycheck -- $4.1 billion more.

But, Kasich's freeze puts at risk billions in utility bill savings and the 25,000 Ohio jobs that have been created since the standards passed 6 years ago -- not to mention the $1 billion in private sector investment.

In a New York Times article on the law's passage, a senior official at the American Council on Renewable Energy explained that, "energy markets are highly policy-driven. When states and even the federal government continually revisit these policies, it sends a signal of uncertainty. It chills market and investment momentum."

Uncertainty in Ohio has already caused American Electric Power to hold off on a project that would have created 4,000 jobs in the next four years.

While Ohio is the first state in the country to freeze its renewable energy standards, more than a dozen states have debated similar bills since 2013 -- a troubling trend led largely by well-funded extremists.

An impressive cross section of organizations such as Ohio Manufacturers' Association and Catholic Bishops of Ohio strongly objected to freezing the state's renewable energy standards; meanwhile, the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity expressed public support for the law Governor Kasich signed, calling the standards a "potential impediment to job creation and job growth here in the Buckeye State."

Ironically, in bowing to pressure from oil and gas lobbyists, Kasich is depriving the Rust Belt of the oiling it so badly needs: renewable energy.

The renewable energy industry creates thousands of family-sustaining jobs that, unlike their counterparts, will not disappear as soon as the well dries up. These jobs are also accessible to those with vocational training and provide an outlet for the many in manufacturing whose jobs are increasingly being outsourced.

Additionally, at time when our country's income inequality is wider than ever before, renewable efficiency standards save middle class consumers millions on utilities and inject money back into the economy -- a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by states with forward-thinking energy policies.

Not only does Ohio's energy freeze jeopardize our economy, but these laws put our environment and our health dangerously at risk. Renewable energy and efficiency standards protect the natural resources that attract millions of people and dollars from tourism each year, and they also reduce chemical emissions linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Before the freeze, Ohio was on track to eliminate 9,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, 40,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 1,000 pounds of mercury being emitted into the air each year. An obvious step in the right direction, given that in 2013 five of Ohio's cities rank in the top 25 worst American cities for particle pollution year-round, according to the American Lung Association.

Ohio's retreat to the dark ages cannot be allowed to create a domino effect throughout the country. Our state leaders need to stand up to special interests and reject legislation that hurts working, every day Americans and sets our nation's economy back just as it is beginning to recover.

Governor Kasich was the first governor to freeze renewable energy standards and he must be the last.