Canton Repository

November 19, 2003

Regula, Brown split on energy legislation

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Two area lawmakers who cast opposing votes on a compromise energy bill Tuesday described the legislation variously as good for Ohio or loaded with favors for special interests.

“It’s probably on balance the best we can do,” said Rep. Ralph Regula, who voted for the legislation, which passed the House 246-180.

Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, and other area Republicans said it would help Ohio by doubling the use of ethanol, a corn-based gasoline additive, and sending more highway dollars to the state.

The legislation is the first significant overhaul of energy policies in a decade. It provides $23 billion in energy-related tax incentives and sets forth new rules and standards meant to prevent cascading power failures such as the huge blackout that began in Ohio last August.

As a major corn-producing state, Ohio would benefit from a doubling of the use of ethanol to 5 billion gallons by 2012. Ethanol is made from corn. No ethanol-producing facilities are located in Ohio, but the state legislature passed tax incentives last year to lure them in, Gov. Bob Taft’s spokesman Orest Holubec said.

The bill also will generate more federal highway aid for Ohio by increasing the amount of ethanol tax that goes into the highway fund, Regula said.

Incentives for the coal industry in the measure also are helpful to Ohio, since coal-fired plants generate the bulk of the state’s electricity, Regula said.

Despite the wide margin of victory in the House, the bill could run into snags in the Senate over a provision that would shield the makers of a gasoline additive from liability lawsuits.

Area Democrats opposed the bill, which a more closely divided Senate expects to consider later this week. The bill is a compromise hammered out between Republicans in the House and Senate, which earlier had passed different versions of the bill that now needs to be reconciled. Democrats complained that Republicans locked them out of the negotiations leading to the compromise.

Rep. Sherrod Brown, a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, voted against the compromise even though he believes it would provide some help to Ohio corn and coal, if enacted.

“Ultimately it’s a special interest grab bag,” said Brown, D-Lorain. “It gives billions of dollars to the oil companies and gas companies and electric utilities and little to consumers.”

Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, also voted for the bill. Ney was unavailable to discuss his vote, but his spokesman Brian Walsh said he was pleased with clean-coal technology incentives and increased use of ethanol.

Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lucasville, said there were parts of the bill he favored but he had to vote against it on balance.

“The bill contains very expensive tax incentives that are not paid for, which means that we just simply dig ourselves into a deeper hole as far as the deficit is concerned,” he said.

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Warren, also opposed the legislation.

A controversial provision would shift the cost of cleaning up methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) contamination from producers of the gasoline additive to polluted communities.

“I’m not sure I like that very well but I don’t think it’s a major thing in the state of Ohio,” where the additive is rarely used, Regula said.

Brown also criticized the MTBE liability shield.