Whaley introduces plan to right the wrongs of energy scandal, spur renewable investments

By: - July 20, 2022 3:55 am

Nan Whaley flanked by the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund’s Trish Demeter, left, and Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, right. Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.

Democratic nominee for Ohio governor Nan Whaley rolled out a climate agenda Tuesday that emphasizes fighting corruption and investing in renewable energy.

The announcement comes less than a week after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, abandoned long running negotiations to include climate change provisions in a Democratic budget deal. That retreat puts greater emphasis on executive action at the federal level as well as state and local efforts to pick up the slack.

Whaley’s first commitment, to replace the membership of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, picks up on a promise initially made by her primary opponent John Cranley.

“We have to clean house,” Whaley said of the agency. “That means firing the current PUCO commissioners and fully investigating the agency’s role in the House Bill 6 scandal.”

If elected, Whaley promised to establish a task force within her first 100 days to review existing audits and investigations tied to HB 6 and offer recommendations to keep similar legislation from passing in the future.

Whaley’s emphasis on HB 6 and it’s connections to Gov. Mike DeWine are nothing new. Her commitment to making the measure a central element of her bid against DeWine helped her pick up the pre-primary endorsement of the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund. The organization’s interim chief Trish Demeter was by Whaley’s side Tuesday and criticized the “extreme voices” that would “hike up Ohioans’ bill for the benefit of Wall Street investors and pass policies that throttle our state’s transition to clean renewable energy.”

Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, was on hand as well, arguing that a Whaley administration would put more emphasis on environmental justice. Brent said state officials’ neglect can be seen in the prevalence of conditions like asthma in primarily African American communities.

“It’s not by happenstance; it’s because the governor of Ohio is choosing not to care about those issues,” Brent said. “They’re choosing not to care about water quality. They’re choosing not to care about air quality issues. They’re choosing not to make the necessary funding adjustments into these places.”

Whaley believes she can work with what will likely be a Republican-controlled legislature to restore the renewable energy standards eliminated with the passage of HB 6, but she said there’s a lot the governor can do through executive action to spur renewable development in the state.

Changes in leadership at the PUCO, for instance, can happen with the stroke of a pen. Whaley said she would also appoint new members to the power siting board that would move quickly to review and approve clean energy projects.

Whaley contends she can also make significant changes by simply setting policy for executive agencies — among those plans, she would ensure state government relies on 100% renewable energy by 2030.

“All of this will begin early in our administration with an executive order to set our renewable energy goals, direct agencies to implement energy efficiency measures, convert our state vehicle fleet to EVs and prioritize state investment in renewables through JobsOhio,” Whaley said.

Tapping the state’s economic development agency, JobsOhio, to incentivize renewable development raises questions, though. The semi-independent corporation funded through its control of the state liquor franchise has put money behind projects that run the gamut from dubious to promising, but the repeated complaint about the agency is its lack of transparency. Whaley promised to change that, too.

“How can we demonstrate what is really happening when we can’t see the whole book?” Whaley said. “This is our money, this is state money and so yeah, there needs to be transparency on what JobsOhio is doing.”



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.