Murray Energy’s limited disclosure in Ohio conspiracy case leaves big questions unanswered

The for-profit corporate structure of Hardworking Ohioans, Inc. and other groups precludes transparency on how companies use money to influence energy policy

This article provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Help us provide more public service reporting by joining our free mailing list or the mailing list for the Energy News Network. While an Ohio-based coal company has contributed $100,000 to an organization that may have been involved in an alleged bribery operation to pass a power plant bailout law last year, company officials said in a bankruptcy filing that they don’t know how the money was spent. A bankruptcy court ruled last week that Murray Energy can move ahead to seek approval of its reorganization plan, subject to a representation that its officers and directors have no knowledge about how money it gave to a dark money organization might have been used to promote the Ohio coal and nuclear bailout law at the heart of a federal conspiracy case. 

The ruling is a partial victory for environmental and citizen groups, who had objected to a more limited disclosure statement proposed by Murray Energy and its related debtors on Aug. 6.

Utilities, gas industry coordinate to oppose Ohio village’s clean energy goal

Emails obtained by a utility watchdog group reveal push by Dominion Energy and allies against a local resolution. Dominion Energy’s opposition to an Ohio village’s clean energy proposal appears to be part of a larger trend nationwide in which gas utilities are becoming more active at the local government level. Unlike other cases involving bans on new gas hook-ups, however, Bratenahl’s proposed resolution stated a general goal of achieving 100% clean energy, with no specific plan or enforcement provisions. The resolution would have set a goal of fully transitioning to clean energy for village-owned facilities by 2025 and for the general community of about 1,200 people by 2035. 

The proposal surfaced in November in the wake of state lawmakers gutting the state’s renewable energy standards last year. 

“In response, you have local communities stepping up to make commitments to 100% clean energy,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Cleveland and Cincinnati had already committed in 2018 to move to 100% renewable energy for electricity.

Campaign contributions pay off for Ohio utilities and coal interests

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.

Fighting for the Ohio River watershed’s mussels: Experts are working to get to the bottom of their mysterious disappearances

“Will one of these fit?” Wendell R. Haag asks, holding out a couple pairs of well-worn creeking shoes he’s pulled from the back of his pickup. Haag is going to see an aquatic wonder, and even tall waterproof rubber boots are sure to fill with water in the sometimes knee-deep stretch of the Licking River. Haag grew up near here, in Kentucky. He tells of his fascination with the bottom feeder he’s about to show. As a child, he began collecting opalescent nacre shells in shades of pink, purple and peach near his home.

Ohio River Flooding Crosses Boundaries

Anthony Wolkiewicz had his picture taken with Fred Rogers while working at WQED in 1977. 

Rogers made a special point to ask about Wolkiewicz’s youngest son. “Who is this? I don’t remember him in my neighborhood,” Wolkiewicz remembers him saying in the same voice he used on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s sheer luck that Wolkiewicz still has that photo: he lost many of his cherished photographs when his basement flooded in June 2017. More than 2 inches of rain fell in an hour, he said, and Saw Mill Run Creek behind his house “became a raging rapids.”

“It crested over its banks, and I got 4 feet of water in my basement,” Wolkiewicz, 65, recalled.

Toxic Mercury Remediation in the Ohio River Hampered by Complicated Cleanup

Mercury flows through industrial wastewater into the Ohio River, and damages young brains. But the multi-state agency tasked with keeping the waterway clean hasn’t tightened controls on this pollution because it doesn’t have the authority to do so. While coal-fired power plants, chemical manufacturers and other facilities along the Ohio River are piping mercury directly into the river and there’s a permitting process to regulate that, the more significant source appears to be mercury blown into the atmosphere from smokestacks — both locally and across the globe from mining, energy and other industries. The mercury eventually settles on land and flows into water. Figuring out how much of the toxin is coming from local industries or wind currents remains a challenge.

Analysis of state contracts to plug orphaned wells reveals that cleanup costs might creep into the billions

Plugging the myriad orphaned oil and gas wells around Ohio costs, on average, more than $110,000 per well, according to a new analysis of Department of Natural Resources data. The research was pulled from contracts the state awarded in 2019 by the ARO Working Group, a network that studies the decommissioning of oil assets and is affiliated with environmental group Earthworks. Compared with Ohio’s actual cleanup costs, operators are only required to put up a fund, called a bond, of $5,000 per well or $15,000 for all of their wells. This money, a fraction of the true price tag, is returned to operators once they plug their wells, which is meant as an incentive to do so. “My big concern is that the business models here in Ohio are premised on cheap water, cheap waste and cheap landscape change,” said Ted Auch, the Great Lakes program coordinator at environmental group FracTracker Alliance.