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Where Do Ohio’s Gubernatorial Candidates Stand On Environmental Issues?

Rich Cordray and Mike DeWine at the American Graduate: Talking Jobs with Ohio's Next Governor event in October [Stuart Pearl / ideastream]
Side by side pictures of Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine

As part of ideastream's You First initiative, we asked Ohioans what issues will guide their vote this election. Environmental concerns including Lake Erie algae, climate change, and fracking were among the responses. So where do the major party candidates for governor stand on environmental issues?

Fracking and Renewable Energy

28-year-old Alex Mahy of Oberlin lists healthcare and the environment as his top two issues. He cites a concern for pollution, greenhouse gases, and fracking, which he says poisons well water and groundwater.

“Anything that would dump contaminants in our body of water and put them in the air is definitely a big issue for me,” said Mahy.

Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray share similar positions on fracking – they support it.

Speaking on “The State of Ohio” public affairs show, DeWine says fracking along with its spinoff businesses bring jobs and money to the state. He’s opposed to increasing the tax on oil and gas drillers, but he’s not looking to allow fracking on public lands.

“I think that we want to be very supportive of this industry, we also, of course, have to have regulations, and we have to make sure that this is done correctly,” said DeWine .

In the Mahoning Valley where fracking has helped revitalize the economically strapped community, Cordray spoke at a forum on Energy and Manufacturing. Afterward, he said the state can have a thriving natural gas industry while still maintaining environmental standards.

“We need to monitor any kind of extractive industry very carefully to make sure it’s not imposing externalities and burdens on our communities,” said Cordray. “But at the same time, we have an opportunity here because we do have the ability to have abundant oil and gas.”

When it comes to renewable energy, DeWine is interested in what he calls a “balanced energy plan,” which includes a continued reliance on nuclear in addition to other energy sources. Speaking to Karen Kasler on “The State of Ohio,” DeWine says he wants to “continue down the pathway” of wind and solar energy.

DeWine fishing with his grandson [Mike DeWine / Twitter]

Part of Cordray’s platform includes a plan to double the state’s renewable and energy efficiency targets by 2025.

Ohio’s Role in Federal Regulation Rollbacks and Climate Change

On environmental issues like curbing pollution, Mahy says state leaders should be on the front line. Especially, he says, with the federal government rolling back environmental regulations and backing out of the Paris climate agreement.

“My hope is that if enough states get on board, there will be pressure on the federal government to also comply,” said Mahy.

The U.S. has also been put on notice with a recent United Nations report on climate change, warning of already-present impacts of warming temperatures, including sea level rise and more extreme weather.

68-year-old Dell Salza of Shaker Heights says she’ll be looking to see what Ohio’s next governor does to prepare Ohio for a changing climate. She was one of several You First commentors on the issue.

“We don’t have time to waste,” said Salza.

On the topic of climate change, Cordray acknowledges its effects and impacts on Ohio, pointing to the extreme rain events that cause favorable conditions for algae blooms.

DeWine did not answer a question related to climate change and how he would help Ohio deal with its impacts.

Salza, who says her family has tried to reduce its carbon footprint, wants to see Ohio promote programs helping individuals live more sustainably through policies and incentives.

“We’re trying to – as much as possible – not use plastic and not use disposables,” explained Salza. “But I know a lot of the things we’ve been doing, not everybody can afford to do that.”

Algae Blooms

One of the only environmental issues that’s received consistent attention this election, algae blooms in western Lake Erie is central to both Cordray and DeWine’s environmental platforms.

DeWine supports a bill in the statehouse that would issue $1 billion in bonds for water improvements – including water quality research and agricultural best management practices.

“Whatever we do we have to focus on science and continue to test Lake Erie,” said DeWine.

He wants to bring the bond issue to voters if elected.

When asked if he supports the bond issue, Cordray says he doesn’t know “whether that’s the right package.” Cordray adds that an infrastructure package in his platform will include infrastructure related to clean water.

He says the key to solving Lake Erie’s algae bloom is bringing farmers and environmentalists to the same table to control agricultural runoff from Northwest Ohio farmers.

Cordray (right) with the University of Toledo's Thomas Bridgeman on the Maumee River [Rich Cordray / Twitter]

“It means changing certain practices, it means providing state aid, and it means technological solutions where those are possible,” said Cordray.

A record on environmental issues

Both candidates cite examples from their time in the Attorney General’s office as a evidence of their record on protecting the environment.

Richard Cordray says he enforced anti-dumping laws as Attorney General, and helped solve a statewide scrap tire problem while in the legislature.

For Mike DeWine, it was a pair of lawsuits against the US Army Corps of Engineers, to prohibit the agency from dumping contaminated Cuyahoga River dredged material into Lake Erie.

“We’ve had to sue them two separate times to get them to stop doing that,” said DeWine.

Has Ohio’s environment been undervalued?

The environment as an issue has flown under the radar in this governor’s race, and Salza says Ohio’s gubernatorial candidates must act fast on the environment before it’s too late.

“People may recognize the value of the environment in terms of the beauty of nature, but I think they don't realize how much we depend on its health and how close we are to destroying it,” said Salza.

DeWine did not respond to this question.

Cordray brings up Lake Erie and the seasonal harmful algal blooms. “That’s kind of a huge stain on the state that we’ve allowed that to happen and it’s festered for years,” Cordray said. “And we don’t really have a plan in place to address it.”

Mahy says the environment has been undervalued on a global scale and folks should be more concerned with the environment and pollution. But, she says, it’s not completely up to individuals when it comes to ideas like clean energy and proper disposal of waste and sediment.

“Our governance should look into those alternatives, should promote incentives for those things,” said Mahy.