Dominion Energy and Duke Energy are backing a controversial anti-protest bill in Ohio, the latest front in a national campaign by the American Legislative Exchange Council and its funders in the fossil fuel and utility industries to stifle environmental activism.
The Ohio House Public Utilities Committee voted to move forward with the bill, SB 33, last week. The vote came during a tense hearing, during which the committee refused to hear spoken testimony from Ohioans who turned out to oppose the bill. State police were called in to remove the bill’s opponents, who protested the move by the committee.
A version of the bill passed the Ohio Senate last year, and it now awaits a vote by the full Ohio House. More than 160 people testified against the bill since it was first introduced last February, while testimony in support of the bill came from nine lobbyists.
Industry supporters of the bill, and others like it introduced in states around the country, say it’s designed to protect what they call “critical infrastructure,” a term which includes pipelines, coal plants, and gas plants that contribute to climate change and air and water pollution.
Opponents warn that the bill is so broadly worded that it could open the door to penalties for acts as simple as posting a flyer on a telephone pole, and treat certain types of protest as third-degree felonies.
“This is designed to discourage protest,” the chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio said.
Last year, lobbyist Rob Eshenbaugh testified before the Ohio House committee on behalf of “a large and diverse collection of companies and trade associations that are supportive of SB 33.”
Dominion Energy and Duke Energy were named on a list of supporters that Eshenbaugh provided to the committee, along with industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute:
Public records by Documented, a corporate watchdog group, also show that the calendar for state senator Frank Hoagland, the primary sponsor of SB 33, included a meeting last April to discuss “critical infrastructure” with John Keaton, the director of state and regulatory affairs for Duke Energy in Ohio.
Lobbyists for a number of electric and gas utility interests also disclosed lobbying on the bill during the final quarter of 2019, including lobbyists representing:
- American Electric Power
- American Municipal Power
- Columbia Gas of Ohio
- Dayton Power & Light
- Dominion Energy
- Duke Energy
- Lightstone Generation
- Ohio Gas Association
- Ohio Electric Utility Institute
- Ohio Independent Power Producers
- Ohio Municipal Electric Association
- Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives
- Ohio Utilities Protection Service
- Retail Energy Supply Association
- Vectren Corporation
Lobbyists for fossil fuel interests also lobbied on the bill last quarter, including the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, BP America, ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum, the Ohio Coal Association, and Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Others lobbying on the bill earlier last year included the Alliance for Energy Choice, Energy Transfer Partners, Enbridge, Murray Energy, and TransCanada.
Hoagland also introduced an earlier version of the bill, SB 250, in 2018, but that bill failed. Public records show that Hoagland met with Keaton and Eshenbaugh to discuss that earlier bill that year.
SB 33 is based on an ALEC model bill backed by the utility and fossil fuel industries
Ohio’s SB 33 is based on a so-called “model policy” dubbed the “Critical Infrastructure Protection Act” that was adopted in 2017 by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose legislative members have introduced copy-cat bills in at least 24 states. Ohio is currently one of seven states considering such legislation.
PolluterWatch, a project of Greenpeace, is tracking these proposals, which threaten to criminalize protests of pipelines and other energy infrastructure. PolluterWatch found that 15 of 18 state legislators who are sponsoring SB 33 are ALEC members.
The list of companies lobbying on SB 33 notably includes companies like AEP, BP, and ExxonMobil that left ALEC in the face of public protest over the group’s climate change denial and obstruction of clean energy policies. A lobbyist for AEP registered to attend at least one ALEC meeting since the company left the group in 2015.
Duke Energy and Dominion Energy shareholders have raised concerns about the companies’ membership in ALEC.
“Duke Energy does not disclose membership in or contributions to tax-exempt organizations that write and endorse model legislation, such as its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose model legislation often works against climate regulation and energy transition,” according to a Duke Energy shareholder resolution on lobbying disclosure from last year.
Fossil fuel and utility interests support ALEC’s anti-protest bill because it targets environmentalists
A 2017 letter that asked members of ALEC’s Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force to adopt the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act as a model policy was signed by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the industry group that represents investor-owned utilities. The American Chemistry Council, American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, and Marathon Petroleum also signed the letter.
“Energy infrastructure is often targeted by environmentalists to raise awareness of climate change, and other perceived environmental challenges,” the letter said.
As Alexander Kaufmann previously reported for the Huffington Post, the letter placed non-violent protests of oil and gas pipeline on par with violent acts targeting energy infrastructure by individuals whose motives have nothing to do with environmental protection.
“We look forward to working with you as you continue to address this growing problem in your state,” the joint letter concluded.
Jennifer Jura, then a manager of policy and policy coalitions for the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, chaired the ALEC task force at the time. Jura still chairs the task force, though she now works as a director of external affairs for EEI.
Public opposition to new pipelines in Ohio
The gas industry scored some big political wins in Ohio last year, despite public opposition to new pipelines in local communities.
Governor Mike DeDiwine appointed Samuel Randazzo, previously an influential lobbyist for the gas industry, as the new chair of the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), which has authority over the construction of new pipelines in the state.
In November, Randazzo and the OPSB announced their approval of Duke Energy’s Central Corridor pipeline project. Local communities and groups like Neighbors Opposing Pipeline Extension, or N.O.P.E., oppose the project. Last month, an administrative law granted opponents’ application for a rehearing of the case.
Dominion Energy’s multi-state Atlantic Coast Pipeline project also faces serious public opposition. It would transport gas produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia to North Carolina and Virginia.
Top: photo of a N.O.P.E. yard sign from the group’s Facebook page