Ohio is just over halfway toward the economy-wide greenhouse gas emission cuts a new analysis says it would need by 2030 to help the United States meet its commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement. Yet without significant changes, Ohio will fall about one-third short of meeting that target.
The state isn’t alone in being behind, according to scorecards for 20 states updated this month by RMI with help from Climate XChange. Researchers selected the group to represent a diversity of industries, geography and policy approaches. Among the 20, only Washington is projected to meet its full share of economy-wide cuts towards the 2030 goal, as calculated under the analysis.
Yet Ohio stands out as needing the largest share of cuts to meet the 2030 goal, as well as for its policy actions over the past decade that give an edge to fossil fuels, despite ongoing climate change.
The 196 countries that signed the Paris Climate Agreement pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels each country would determine for itself. The United States’ commitment, set by the Biden administration in 2021, calls for a 50- to 52-percent cut in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels. The national goal by 2050 is to have net-zero emissions.
The United States’ gross total greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 were equivalent to nearly 7.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gas Inventory show. That’s just behind the 2007 peak, which was about 34 million metric tons higher.
Of course, the levels and types of pollution aren’t the same across the country. Some moves are more efficient at cutting greenhouse gas emissions than others. And some strategies can be deployed more quickly than others. So, assuming each state should achieve 52 percent overall cuts would be extremely easy for some states, but very challenging for others, said Nathan Iyer, an RMI researcher who worked on the scorecard team.
“Instead, we take a national policy scenario with achievable policies for each sector,” Iyer said, such as retiring all coal-fired power plants by 2030 and achieving 100 percent electric vehicle sales by 2035. Looking at emissions data and other publicly available information helped the researchers identify where states were particularly lagging.
The result was a set of state-specific economy-wide targets with goals for different sectors and subsectors. The team calculated each state’s current progress towards those goals. The work also factored in state policies, planned generation retirements, estimated prices for clean energy and other factors to estimate how close states will come to their finish lines by 2030.
Those state-specific targets are not legally binding. Yet they provide insight on which states need the most improvement if the country is to meet its near-term commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement. Breakdowns by sector for each state also show where there’s room to improve.
The methodology resulted in Ohio having the largest economy-wide emissions reduction target among the 20 states: 56 percent, compared to 2005 levels. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Georgia also wound up with state-specific goals of 50 percent or more.
At the other end of the spectrum, Washington had the lowest economy-wide target of 25 percent, with Iowa and Texas having targets of 28 percent. Minnesota, Louisiana and Kansas had targets from 32 percent to 38 percent. New York, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Massachusetts had economy-wide targets from 41 percent to 45 percent.
“Because some sectors move faster than others, the states that have more emissions from the electricity sector will have to make deeper emissions cuts because they have a disproportionate amount of emissions in that faster-to-decarbonize sector,” Iyer said.
A $35 Billion Opportunity vs. Politics
Most of Ohio’s progress so far has come from retiring coal plants, said Jacob Cordivae, an RMI principal who also worked on the new states’ analysis. Additional coal plant retirements have been announced, although three large plants might still be running after 2030.
“There’s a lot of potential for Ohio to do more here,” especially as market forces and other factors favor moving away from fossil fuels, said Neil Waggoner, federal deputy director for energy campaigns with the Sierra Club. He did not work on the RMI scorecards.
Among other things, Ohio is poised to have a lot of growth in solar development, Cordivae said. While only 724 megawatts of solar generation were in operation as of July 20, regulators have approved another 6,345 MW. More than 2,500 MW of additional generation is in the regulatory pipeline.
Ohio also stands to gain nearly $35 billion cumulatively by 2030 if it takes advantage of all opportunities under the Inflation Reduction Act, Cordivae said. That figure comes from estimates RMI released in February. “Most of that federal money is in tax credits,” which provide an added economic development boost by keeping funds in-state, he noted.
Yet whether Ohio takes full advantage of emission-cutting opportunities will depend largely on politics in a state where Republicans have controlled the governor’s office and both houses of the General Assembly for the last dozen years.
“Ohio has an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy and is focused on safe, affordable and reliable energy for our businesses and communities,” said Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the office of Gov. Mike DeWine. “The state is actively engaged in securing all available federal funding opportunities, whether through the IIJA [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] or IRA [Inflation Reduction Act], that will reinforce the DeWine administration’s efforts to ensure cleaner air and water for all Ohioans.”
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Yet some critics question whether Ohio has an “all-of-the-above” approach in practice.
“It’s like we have this weird philosophical anti-green-energy thing, because it’s a ‘liberal’ thing, and climate is a ‘liberal thing’ versus a ‘conservative thing,’” Waggoner said, describing the dynamics and partisanship surrounding climate change issues in the state.
In light of that, Waggoner wondered whether the Ohio government and administration would now be more supportive of cutting fossil fuel emissions. “Or,” he asked, “are they going to do more of what has been the case for over a decade now of consistently getting in the way, slowing down progress and hurting Ohioans financially, environmentally and from a health outlook perspective?”
Multiple policy measures over the past decade have slowed progress in adding renewable energy and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. A 2012 law opened Ohio up for widespread horizontal drilling and fracking for oil and gas. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled against local government efforts to restrict drilling and fracking.
Additionally, a 2021 law barred local governments from banning natural gas for new buildings. In late 2022, lawmakers declared natural gas “green energy” and pushed regulators to adopt procedures to allow drilling from state lands, including parks. DeWine signed both bills into law.
Efforts to repeal or scale back the state’s 2008 renewable energy and energy efficiency standards started in 2011 and peaked when House Bill 6, the law at the heart of Ohio’s ongoing corruption scandal, gutted them in 2019. Other provisions in HB 6 still require ratepayers to subsidize two 1950s-era coal plants, one of which is in Indiana. HB 6’s nuclear subsidies and a utility revenue guarantee have been repealed, but the legislature’s leadership has held up efforts to repeal all or parts of the rest of the law.
DeWine signed HB 6 into law, as well as a 2021 law giving counties effective veto power over new wind and solar projects. Several years earlier, a 2014 law tripled property line setbacks for wind farm turbines.
Those and other factors are reflected in RMI’s progress report for Ohio. What happens next is largely up to the state.
“While the scorecard may seem to show a gap in progress, it’s also highlighting a huge opportunity for Ohio to build up its cleantech adoption and compete in the clean energy economy race that is increasingly defining U.S. and global growth,” Cordivae said.