The Ohio Department of Health gets daily updates on the total number of beds and ventilators that could be available for COVID-19 patients at hospitals throughout the state. But so far the agency hasn’t provided any hospital-by-hospital breakdown, and the agencies that collect capacity information on their behalf have also declined to release their assessments. The result: Ohioans don’t know how many beds and ventilators are available where they live. Timely and meaningful knowledge could benefit Ohioans from a health perspective, while also helping them understand the range of public policy issues surrounding the crisis.
The availability of resources to care for COVID-19 patients could mean life or death for thousands of Ohioans. “It’s what keeps me awake at night,” said Ohio Department of Health (ODH) director of health Amy Acton, MD, MPH of her fear of running out of beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment.
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.
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.
All Tim Guilfoile wants to do is fish. Before his retirement, he had two careers: one in business and one in water quality activism. Now, he serves as the director of marketing and communications for Northern Kentucky Fly Fishers. “We fly fish for bass, blue gill, striped bass and others. Not just trout.
Investigation: Blacks, black neighborhoods most likely to be traffic stop targets in Ohio’s 3 biggest cities
By Max Londberg and Lucia Walinchus
Video by Michael Nyerges
Reporters from the nonprofit newsroom Eye on Ohio, The Cincinnati Enquirer and researchers from Stanford University’s Big Local News program examined police stops to assess how the three largest communities in Ohio use public safety resources and to identify potential bias in policing. Followed in a public park and forced to leave. Cuffed and questioned for whistling while waiting for a bus. Pulled over for spending too much time at a gas station. Some black drivers and pedestrians in Cincinnati say they’ve been unfairly stopped and questioned by police.
“It seems to be if you are a minority, you’re a target and you’re automatically doing something wrong,” said Michelle Cameron, a black resident who lives in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Westwood.
When Jason Flickner was a kid, he built a dam on the creek behind his grandparents’ house causing it to flood a neighbor’s basement. When he tells the story now — at 45 and living in the same house — he says his dam was a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
The story captures Flickner’s current situation: a life interwoven with the waters of southern Indiana and the house his grandfather built in this Ohio River town, intimate knowledge of one of the nation’s premier environmental laws, and a good plan going a little sideways. Flickner is the executive director of the Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper, a nonprofit he started in 2017 to be the voice for the stretch of the Ohio that runs 300 miles from roughly Louisville, Kentucky, to Evansville, Indiana. He’s a career environmental advocate who doesn’t see many opportunities in that line of work in this part of the country.
He’s starting to think it’s time to walk away, but he feels bound to New Albany. Both his grandparents have died; the future of the estate is uncertain, and Flickner doesn’t want to let it go.
“I feel like not only am I walking away from the family homestead, I’m walking away from the fight that I’ve been putting up for 20 years,” Flickner said from his sitting room, lit through large windows covered in nose prints from his dogs, Willow and Murphy.
To him, building the nonprofit to where it can pay him $40,000 a year is his best chance to keep the house his grandfather built while fighting for a river that he feels called to protect from industrial and agricultural pollution.
ByJeffrey Boggess, Ariel Cifala, Bijan Fandey, Shae McClain and Mark Schoenster |
The Cheat River courses through one of the largest undammed watersheds in the eastern United States. The river forms from tributaries high in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia and flows northward to meet with the Monongahela River just before crossing into southwestern Pennsylvania. From there, the Mon joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. The Ohio River is a drinking water source for five million people, and 25 million people in Appalachia and the Midwest live within its watershed.
The Cheat River has a storied history. Not so long ago, the river ran orange for miles at a time from acid mine drainage, but revitalization efforts have brought the waters back to life, both literally and figuratively.
Three years after its failed bid at a merger with Cleveland, the poorest city in the state of Ohio ventures a comeback
EAST CLEVELAND — After dropping off a “wet one” (a man high on PCP) at University Hospitals Emergency Room, the ambulance pulled northeast onto Euclid Avenue near Cleveland’s border with East Cleveland. The mirror-finish of The Museum of Contemporary Art reflected trees in full summer bloom as the two East Cleveland firefighters made their way back to their engine house. They cruised by fast-casual restaurants in gleaming new buildings and the Case Western Reserve University Bookstore and the Cleveland Institute of Art building named for George Gund — the mid-20th-century Cleveland banker and philanthropist — before barreling under the concrete and wrought iron railroad bridge that separates Cleveland’s booming University Circle neighborhood from the broken-down streets of East Cleveland. “The scenery sure does change,” said Kyle Soca, the rookie piloting the squad, as the bridge shrank in the rearview mirror and the sidewalks became populated with boarded up storefronts and crumbling apartment buildings. State Sen. Kenny Yuko, who represents both sides of the bridge in the Ohio legislature, stated it more bluntly.