Ohio Gov. Kasich concerned by climate change, but won’t ‘apologize’ for coal

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) acknowledged Wednesday that his belief in climate change cuts against the grain in the Republican Party, but don't look for him to embrace Environmental Protection Agency regulations any time soon.

“I am a believer — my goodness I am a Republican — I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change. I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it,” Kasich said at a Columbus, Ohio, energy conference hosted by The Hill.

“But we can’t overreact to it and make things up, but it is something we have to recognize is a problem,” Kasich said. 

Kasich touted efforts to help spur development of carbon capture and storage for coal, which has not been adopted on a commercial scale, and criticized what he cast as an overaggressive EPA.

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“We are going to continue to work on cleaning coal, but I want to tell you, we are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it in Ohio, and we are not going to apologize for it,” he said during wide-ranging remarks on energy at the conference. 

Ohio is a coal-producing state and home to American Electric Power, a major coal-burning utility.

Asked in a subsequent interview if he was concerned about the GOP’s efforts to kill EPA rules, he said, "I believe there is something to [climate change], but to be unilaterally doing everything here while China and India are belching and putting us in a noncompetitive position isn’t good, but some of that is the presidential leadership,” Kasich said.

“I am just saying that I am concerned about it, but I am not laying awake at night worrying the sky is falling. I just have a concern about it,” he added.

EPA has begun taking steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The agency in late March proposed carbon dioxide standards for new power plants, but rules for the existing fleet appear to be on a much slower track.

The vast majority of scientists say global warming is occurring and human activities are a key factor. A small minority calls data on warming trends and the human contribution inconclusive or inaccurate. Questioning climate science has become common among Republicans. 

Kasich’s spoke during a summit that focused on the expected increase in shale oil and natural gas development in the Buckeye State, which is revising its laws and regulations to provide what Kasich says will be strong safeguards that also allow drilling to expand.

The oversight system he's promoting will address issues including disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, water sampling and other areas.

Kasich quipped that he doesn’t want jobs from shale development to go to “foreigners” as he touted job-training efforts.

“I don’t want foreigners working on our drill rigs. And foreigners are people from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana," he said. "We want Ohioans to be ready to be able to operate once this industry explodes, and in fact job training is a very, very big initiative of the administration."

Kasich said that without strong rules, there could be a backlash against development. A number of energy companies, including big players like Total, Chesapeake Energy and BP, are planning development in the Utica shale formation that’s thought to be rich in oil, natural gas and natural gas-liquids.

“Try to jam this stuff down people’s throats and you are going to fail. I do not want the public to lose confidence in the fact that we can have strong environmental regulations that ensure the public safety, and we are working with industry to make sure that it is not overboard, but it we are also not going to let it be under-board to the point where the public can feel a sense of security,” Kasich said at the conference.

Advocates of aggressive development of shale energy say it could bring the state tens of thousands of jobs in coming years while helping provide support domestic manufacturing by boosting supplies of gas and gas-liquids like ethane.

But environmentalists fear expanded air pollution and water contamination from use of the hydraulic fracturing process — which involves injections of water, chemicals and sand into the ground — to access the hydrocarbons from shale formations.

Jack Shaner, the deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said at the conference that Kasich has made “a number of good starts” on issues like chemical disclosure with his regulatory plan that’s moving through the state legislature and an administrative rulemaking process.

But environmentalists have also said tougher steps are needed on groundwater protection and other areas.

Shaner said there’s a need to ensure the public greater access to the permitting process, including the right to appeal.

“The public, I hope, we will all view as an equal partner in this process,” he said.

— This story was updated at 5:15 p.m.