John Boehner and Obama’s ‘war on coal’
“The president's announcement yesterday of essentially a national energy tax and the continuation of the war on coal will only make matters worse, putting thousands and thousands of Americans out of work; increasing the cost of electricity, especially in a state like mine, Ohio, where about 95 percent of our electricity comes from burning coal.”
— House Speaker John a. Boehner (R-Ohio), news conference, June 26, 2013
The Fact Checker grew up in Ohio, and so the House speaker’s claim that 95 percent of electricity came from coal seemed rather high. We remembered, for instance, that there briefly had been a nuclear power plant up above Cincinnati, off Route I-75, in the town of Piqua — which is part of Boehner’s district.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), at the same news conference, denouncing President Obama’s new climate-change policy, mentioned that West Virginia received 96 percent of its electricity from coal. That made sense — and is correct. But Ohio?
We looked at several sources. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has a handy Web page titled “Where does Ohio’s electricity come from?” That analysis shows that coal generates 77.87 percent of Ohio’s electricity, with nuclear power (11 percent) and natural gas (9.12 percent) making up much of the rest. The Energy Information Administration also says that coal fueled 78 percent of Ohio’s net electricity generation.
For good measure, the Columbus Dispatch, in a long article published Wednesday, said that “coal generates more than 80 percent of the electricity in Ohio.” The newspaper did not provide a source, but that’s a sign that there was a much lower number than “95 percent” in circulation in one of Ohio’s largest newspapers.
Still, Ohio’s reliance on coal is high compared to the rest of the United States — where electricity from coal has dropped to about 40 percent. But the latest figures also show that Ohio from 2010 to 2011 cut its net generation of electricity from coal by about 10 percent.
Indeed, Ohio has a plan, enshrined in law in 2008 under a Democratic governor and Republican General Assembly, that is designed to reduce the state’s reliance on coal by requiring that “25 percent of electricity sold by Ohio’s electric distribution utilities or electric services companies must be generated from alternative energy sources by 2025,” according to the Public Utilities Commission.
Not only that, but 12.5 percent must comes from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass and hydropower. The law sets benchmarks that will fine utilities if they do not meet the mandated goals.
Just last year, Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed into law Senate Bill 315 which expanded the renewable energy requirement to allow other projects, such as waste energy recovery, to qualify as a renewable energy resource. The bill also created a regulatory structure for Ohio’s participation in horizontal fracturing (fracking) boom, which allows companies to tap previously uneconomic pools of oil and natural gas. This could also significantly alter Ohio’s energy portfolio. Touting the plan last year, Kasich noted that coal “irritates the current president.”
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said he could not provide a source for Boehner’s figure of 95 percent. “Regardless it’s clear the overwhelming majority of electricity in Ohio comes from the coal that the president is attacking,” he said, citing a Washington Post article on Obama’s “war on coal.”
The Pinocchio Test
On one level this might seem like a minor slip-up. Clearly, coal supplies a large part of Ohio’s energy portfolio. But there is no reason to exaggerate it even more.
Besides pumping up the figure beyond reason, Boehner should be well aware that his state has a plan to reduce that dependence on coal. He undercuts his complaint about the president’s proposals when he relies on numbers that ignore Ohio’s own ambitious efforts to reduce its use of coal-fired plants.
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