State Republicans seek to ban cities from limiting natural gas development

By: - March 25, 2021 12:30 am

Ohio State Capitol building; Jodi Jacobson / Getty Images

Ohio lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would block cities and counties from opting out of pipeline projects or limiting the use of natural gas.

Lobbyists representing the coal and natural gas industries appeared before the House Energy and Natural Resources committee Wednesday in support.

House Bill 192 would prohibit city or county governments from banning the use of “any fossil fuel” for energy generation or the construction of a natural gas pipeline through the jurisdiction. House Bill 201, similarly, would block local governments from passing any ordinance that “limits” or “prevents” consumer access to natural gas.

A growing list of American cities — starting with Berkeley, Calif. in 2019 — have passed legislation banning or limiting new natural gas hookups.

In response, four state legislatures — Arizona, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas — have banned local governments from banning natural gas. At least 13 other states, including Ohio, are considering banning the local bans as well, according to Inside Climate News.

Supporters of the state legislation, namely the energy industry, say cities banning energy sources will lead to price increases for consumers and an unworkable minefield of regulations and no-fly zones for energy providers.

“[HB 201], in turn, will keep Ohio from becoming a hodge-podge of local ordinances where one community has access to fossil fuel energy and another, just a short distance away, does not,” said Ohio Oil and Gas Association President Matthew Hammond.

As Jimmy Stewart, president of the Ohio Gas Association noted, some Ohio cities have shifted away from fossil fuels. Cleveland, Cincinnati, Euclid and Lakewood have all passed resolutions establishing a goal of operating on 100% clean, renewable energy by 2025.

The city resolutions came after the passage of House Bill 6 in 2019, which gutted the state’s efficiency and renewable energy standards.

The bill is now at the center of a federal bribery investigation that has yielded the indictment of the former House Speaker Larry Householder, former Ohio GOP chairman turned lobbyist Matt Borges, and late lobbyist Neil Clark. Householder’s political strategist, Jeff Longstreth, and lobbyist Juan Cespedes have pleaded guilty to their role in the alleged racketeering scheme.

Prosecutors allege the men funneled $61 million from utility giant FirstEnergy through various pass-through entities to covertly engineer the bill’s passage and defeat a ballot referendum seeking to overturn it.

Critics say these state-level bans are an end-run around local governments who are accountable to local voters who may not want pipelines and the environmental damage they can cause in their backyards. The legislation, they say, is also a means of an overly energy-friendly legislature to squash attempts from more progressive cities to tackle climate change by cutting into greenhouse gas emissions.

If cities want to choose cheaper or cleaner energy sources over fossil fuels, said Ohio Environmental Council Vice President for energy policy Miranda Leppla, why would the state interfere?

“We’re seeing a lot of attacks right now, HB 6 included, on renewable and clean energy,” she said in an interview. “We’re seeing a lot of things popping up helping the fossil fuel industry. What we really want to see is renewable energy options in this state.”

In analyzing HB 192, the Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan policy research arm of the general assembly, noted that under the “home rule” provision of the Ohio Constitution, municipalities generally have the right to control their utilities and how they operate.

“There may be a question as to whether the bill’s limitations as applied to municipal corporations violates these provisions,” the LSC wrote in its analysis.

Neither bill was put up for a vote Wednesday.



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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.