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Ohio Governor Blames Steel Plant Exodus on Delay of Energy Bill by House Speaker

OhioNews Bureau

ONB COLUMBUS: With the announcement that a potentially job-rich steel plant decided to pull the plug on locating in Ohio because of electric rate uncertainty, Gov. Ted Strickland, who had called for his energy plan to be passed by the legislature last year, laid the blame of the job losses on Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted for delaying the passage of the bill.

The company considering Ohio was Steel Development LLC, a scrap-based still mill owned by a group of American and European steel executives. The group was exploring Ohio for its $1 billion facility that would have employed 500 people, according to a report in the Mansfield News Journal (MNJ).

A steel plant official said the uncertainty of knowing what the cost of electricity would be over a multi-year period was reason enough to look elsewhere. The steel plant, which uses electric StricklandStricklandarc furnace technology to turn scrap metal into flat-rolled steel to be used in domestic infrastructure.

"We should have been able to give that company that information. If this bill had passed expeditiously, as I had asked, if it had been dealt with in a timeframe that I think was appropriate, we may have saved this $1 billion investment." [Gov. Strickland, MNJ]

With Ohio’s economic conditioning looking pale from the loss of so many jobs over the years – it had a net loss in 2007 of 12,200 non-farm jobs – combined with a projected budget deficit in mid 2009 of between $733 million and $1.9 billion, letting hundreds of good paying jobs slip away because electric rate information wasn’t given is another blow to the Buckeye State’s midsection.

It experienced similar heartache last year when it lost out to Virginia as the site for an expansion of Rolls-Royce’s North American operations.

WAS DESIGN OF DELAY FOR DOLLARS?

Strickland’s comprehensive energy bill was introduced last fall and passed the Ohio Senate in late October. The Ohio House, under Speaker Husted’s leadership, decided to slow walk it, some say, to coax contributions from interested parties like FirstEnergy Corp., American Electric Power Co. and Duke Energy to Republican Senate and House campaign coffers.

Husted, a term-limited Republican from Dayton who has plans HustedHustedto run for the Senate and who is rumored to have his eye on the office of secretary of state in 2010, has delayed the bills transit through the lower chamber by refashioning it in ways that will surely result in future negotiations with Strickland and the Senate.

REPUBLICANS GO GREEN

While the House version of the energy bill has yet to address the areas of marketing and regulation that the Senate version spoke to, Husted seems to have gotten religion on alternative energy. As recently as today, reports show Husted has crafted a new bill that doubles down on renewable energy provisions and imposes fines on utilities that don't meet specific benchmarks.

Husted's born-again calling to the tangible benefits that could be realized from promoting the further deployment of renewable energy from wind and solar, among other alternative energy sources, is gaining cheers from environmental and consumer groups who historically saw Republicans as a backstop for the interests of big energy producers.

The Republican plan Husted is steering contemplates the imposition of fines on utilities -- who would be prohibited from passing them onto consumers -- who fail to meet specific renewable energy benchmarks.

"Punishment has always been a good incentive for me in life." [House Speaker Jon Husted, Toledo Blade]

Normally left standing at the altar in energy debates, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), the state’s residential OCCOCCenergy advocate, commended Husted for “adding important details to ensure economic benefits will be gained for consumers and businesses” that will “capture the untapped potential for green energy and technologies available to reduce our usage.”

The OCC said in a press release that Husted’s “inclusion of benchmarks to ensure that utilities make needed progress and the adoption of a more ambitious energy efficiency standard matter greatly and will help lawmakers and consumers send the message that they care about managing the costs of power, both on their monthly bills and on the environment.”

This may be fine and dandy for 2025, but for 2008 and the near future, the announcement that a major employer has turned the lights out on Ohio because politicians have delayed passage of such an important bill is not the news Strickland and state officials want to send to other prospective employers, who may see what happened to Steel Development and decide not to even bother spending time in Ohio.

John Michael Spinelli is a former Ohio Statehouse government and political reporter and business columnist. He now serves as the OhioNews Bureau Chief for ePluribus Media Journal. Find ONB archives here.

If readers have a news tip or story idea about Ohio politics or government, contact the OhioNews Bureau at: ohionews@epluribusmedia.org