Shana Black, Eye on Ohio's First Draft Fellow. On Thursday, a Cleveland man tweeted a picture saying that that local residents had taken to the streets to end COVID-19. The internet launched a vitriolic response, condemning the city for further spreading the disease. But no one, in fact, had marched. The tweet came from a satire account that had posted an old picture of a Cleveland Cavalier championship victory.
The Ohio River watershed is dotted with thousands of small dams. Many are remnants of bygone days of grain mills and the steel industry, which used dams to pool water needed during production. The dams are no longer needed. And, because they can be a safety hazard to boats and a barrier to fish, there are efforts to remove them and restore free-flowing rivers. But not everyone is ready for it. A mayor’s vision starts with dam removal
After years of pushing for the removal of the old steel industry dam crossing the Mahoning River in his northeastern Ohio village near the Pennsylvania border, Lowellville Mayor Jim Iudiciani said it’s coming down this summer.
“They call me the dam mayor, and for good reason, finally,” Iudiciani joked.
One year into his first term, Ohio’s top utility regulator, Samuel Randazzo, has signaled that winning approval to build and operate wind and solar projects in the state could be even more difficult in the future. At the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Power Siting Board, which Randazzo also chairs, recent decisions have blocked a new solar development and imposed new restrictions on wind energy — moves consistent with Randazzo’s longtime criticism of renewables as a registered lobbyist and lawyer representing heavy industry before the utilities commission. Also, the commission is now defending Ohio’s decision to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants in a filing before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — an about-face from its stance in 2017 opposing a federal bailout of old coal and nuclear plants.
Gov. Mike DeWine’s 2019 appointment of Randazzo, a veteran energy lawyer and lobbyist, followed a rapid and opaque approval process that overlooked two of Randazzo’s ongoing small consulting companies, both of which have done business with FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions, (now Energy Harbor) federal bankruptcy records show.
Randazzo declined an interview request to comment on the companies or to elucidate what he sees as the PUCO’s mission.
Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston, the state’s voice for residential utility consumers, has been pushing to reform the nomination process for the PUCO, noting that the majority of commission members are either former employees of power companies or have represented them.
And while Randazzo has not always been at odds with consumer advocates, his long opposition to renewable energy is making its mark in Ohio regulatory decisions. Sam Randazzo (Photo Credit: the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio)
A long hostility to clean energy
Randazzo told state lawmakers during his 2019 confirmation hearing that as a commissioner he would have no view for or against any particular technology — despite a pattern of publicly criticizing renewable energy.
As chair of the Public Utilities Commission, he testified before lawmakers last year on Ohio House Bill 6, which authorized subsidies for nuclear and coal generation but basically gutted the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. His comments stressed the cost of the standards but not their benefits.
FirstEnergy Solutions paid nearly $2 million to at least one group, but most other data remains hidden. After-the-fact filings show that FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiary paid nearly $2 million to Generation Now, one of the special interest groups that orchestrated ads, political donations and other efforts behind Ohio’s nuclear and coal bailout. But legal loopholes make it harder to find out the total spent and who else was behind xenophobic advertising, dueling voter petitions, alleged intimidation and other claims of foul play. And none of those actions fully disclosed who was behind them. The scant public filings that are available show additional connections to FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor), as well as the law firm of an outspoken legislator who has long fought the state’s clean energy standard, and others with high-level political influence.
Nuclear and coal bailout is the latest in a line of favorable policy actions that shield noncompetitive plants from competition. Utility, nuclear and coal interests are big players in Ohio politics, giving about $3 million to Ohio political campaigns in 2018, according to data from the National Institute on Money in Politics. The industry interests have long been active politically. But just as competitive markets began coming into their own around 2010, the pattern of campaign contributions also shifted. Donations to Ohio campaigns from the utility, nuclear and coal industries in 2010 were more than double the amount for 2008.
ByAshton Nichols, Samantha Raudins, Lukas Udstuen and Lucia Walinchus |
This story was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
For years, Elliot Feltner’s father-in-law operated an auto body shop in Cleveland. Later in life, a stroke debilitated the old mechanic, and his care proved a heavy burden for Feltner’s wife, Linda.
Not long after burying her father, in 2009, Linda Feltner discovered her chronic cough was more than just bronchitis: it was cancer. She died three years later.
When Elliot Feltner finally sorted through the medical bills and the loss of his only family, he discovered the body shop property he inherited owed considerable back taxes, which he couldn’t afford. So he put the shop up for sale and told the county he’d use the proceeds to pay off the debt.
But after signing a buyer, the sale fell through because Feltner discovered the property had already been sold to the county land bank, he says without his knowledge.
“They called me one day and said you don’t own the property. Someone else does.
Ohio's digital divide hurts those who can't afford high-speed internet
Computer trainer and former library aide Shenee King has a bird’s eye view when it comes to digital inequity.
She’s seen students fail assignments because they lack a home computer — and the assignment is in Google classroom. She’s seen middle schoolers fail standardized essay tests because they weren’t taught keyboarding — so they write the test longhand and struggle to type it before their time is up.
The youngsters are victims of a problem that affects residents throughout Ohio, but the issue is particularly acute in Cleveland. Digital exclusion consists of a combination of deficiencies: lack of access to affordable networks and hardware; lack of literacy or skills to navigate, consume, and produce content in the digital sphere; and finally lack of access to troubleshooting support when broadband or devices break. The reality of digital exclusion means many, are isolated at a time when the Internet enables daily life. From GPS-enabled cars, to Bluetooth kitchen appliances to virtual medical consultations, digital access determines tasks from the mundane to the crucial.
The Fairfax Neighborhood where Digital C has aimed their project. (Photo Credit: Eye on Ohio)
“Everything is going digital now, as far as resources for help,” said King, who works with the Cleveland Housing Network.
On Thursday, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that evidence of a commercial real estate transaction depends on the intent of the parties and the building transferred, not the structure of the sale. The court invalidated the "drop LLC" sale of 4121 Palmer Park Circle East, which would have deprived public coffers of about $273,000 a year in tax money, based on a lower valuation of the property. Eye on Ohio featured the case in its August 2019 investigation of the commercial property tax loophole in Ohio, which costs the median Franklin County commercial business property owner an average of at least $4,893 per year. A property owner with a $100,000 property in Columbus' tax district 10, where Palmer House is located, pays at least $1,800 extra. In December 2014, Palmer Square sold an apartment building to PPG Manhattan Real Estate Partners LLC.
FirstEnergy foray into energy brokering raises issues of fair competition
A FirstEnergy subsidiary is seeking permission from Ohio regulators to advise customers on which electricity suppliers they should choose. The company’s application to operate as an energy broker and aggregator is an apparent reversal for FirstEnergy, which spent years legally separating from its non-regulated electricity businesses, including its former generation subsidiary. Critics say the move raises potential conflict of interest questions. It also comes as state lawmakers consider a bill that would broaden the range of services that regulated utilities could offer customers. FirstEnergy owns three regulated utilities in Ohio: Ohio Edison, Toledo Edison and the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company.
The press conference in October followed a well-worn script.
Community leaders and police gathered on the sturdy stone steps of City Hall, taking turns at a microphone, pleading with Clevelanders to abandon a code of silence. Once again, a child had been gunned down. This time, it was a first grader, who’d been sleeping when a torrent of bullets tore into a South Collinwood home. Six-year-old Lyric-Melodi Lawson’s life was cut short, senselessly, her blood spattered on the faces of other children sleeping around her. The community needed to step up and cast aside a “no snitch” rule, and work with the police.