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Ohio faith leaders weigh in on green-energy standards freeze

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Faith leaders held a press conference on Wednesday to urge the Ohio House and Governor John Kasich to defeat Senate Bill 310. As passed by the Ohio Senate, the bill would repeal the rule that requires utilities to buy half of their renewable energy from suppliers within Ohio.

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The legislation would also freeze annual increases in Ohio's green energy standards for two years while a special committee studies whether to make other changes to the rules. The Ohio House has postponed a vote on the bill until at least next week.

"I am deeply disturbed by Senate Bill 310 and its undoing of alternative energy and efficiency incentives," Sr. Leanne Jablonski said on the steps of Trinity Epsicopal Church on Capitol Square in Columbus. "Fossil fuel emissions contribute to global warming, air pollution, health problems, and an undue economic burden, particularly for the poor, the aged, and the young — the most vulnerable whom we're called to protect."

Sr. Jablonski, a Roman Catholic, teaches at the University of Dayton and directs the Roman Catholic Marianist Environmental Education Center. "We understand that there's an ongoing debate over the need to freeze current standards while a study takes place," she said. "We ask elected officials to prayerfully consider if it would be prudent, for the sake of environmental stewardship, to maintain our current standards instead of freezing them while the study takes place."

Reverend Robert Martin described how the First Presbyterian Church of Athens has leveraged Ohio's existing energy standards. Their church building won recognition as the top house of worship in the EPA's National Building Competition for energy savings in 2013. "We were able to cut our carbon footprint and realize an energy savings of over 20 percent in a one-year period," he said.

Energy savings enables houses of worship to spend more of their budgets on supporting the needy in their communities, Martin said. "The only way this can happen is through partnerships. We were able partner with our utility companies because in 2008 Ohio passed legislation that allowed that to happen. We're concerned about that legislation going away. Other congregations won't have the opportunity to do what we've done."

Ohio Interfaith Power and Light Director Sara Ward read part of a 14,000-signature petition that Ohio members of the Evangelical Environmental Network plan to deliver to Governor Kasich's office on Friday: "As pro-life Christians, we urge Governor Kasich and all members of the Ohio legislature to oppose Senate Bill 310 and keep Ohio moving in the right direction.

"Toxic emissions threaten the health and safety of our citizens, especially children, pregnant mothers, and the unborn. We are asking Governor Kasich to be guided by his faith, and veto this legislation."

"This bill would undermine one of the healthiest sectors of Ohio's economy, drive investment dollars to other states, and dramatically raise utility rates for families and businesses across the state," said Rev. Lisa Dahill, professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus. "The time for such short-term thinking is over."

"Senate Bill 310 is bad for business and bad for families, but it is good for greed," said Rev. Timothy Ahrens of the First Congregational Church, UCC in Columbus. "Residential rates will skyrocket, increasing on average from $80 to $150 per year. Businesses will see an increase of thousands of dollars.

"In our case, as a church, that means our business can't help the poor. Those are dollars taken away that could go to helping others. They go to pad the pockets of the rich, where they can't help anyone. That is immoral."

The political players are divided on whether changes to Ohio's green energy standards would spark a national trend, the Columbus Dispatch reported. SB 310 is backed by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization supported by billionaires Charles and David Koch. One of bill's co-sponsors, Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), is a board member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

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