Updated on July 4, 2023 after Governor Mike DeWine signed the budget and issued a partial veto of the All Ohio Future Fund that included funding for gas infrastructure.

Parts of the Ohio state budget bill that benefit the methane gas industry resemble planned legislation described earlier this year by a lobbyist for The Empowerment Alliance, a dark money group backed by gas interests. 

In March, Mitch Given of The Empowerment Alliance (TEA) said during a recorded public meeting with the Ashland County Commissioners that his group was working on state legislation that would fund new infrastructure to deliver gas to private companies, infrastructure that nobody wants to pay for:

So we’re working with JobsOhio to put together an infrastructure study, statewide infrastructure study, on natural gas and to… identify what areas need it the most and then how do we pay for that? And then look at is there some sort of state legislation that we can work to pass to get the you know funding for that… that gets to be the issue always [of] who pays for it, because the gas companies, as you probably know,… they want to know we’re going to get a return on our investment… the companies [buying the gas] feel like hey, we’re buying gas from you. Why are we paying for the line? You know, that’s your responsibility, and the local taxpayers typically don’t want to get stuck with the bill either. 

Given said the groups were trying to figure out how “spread the cost across to everybody” and planned to share the infrastructure study with the state legislature.  

He said Dominion and Columbia Gas were involved in discussions about gas infrastructure with TEA. Dominion has a history of fighting the adoption of 100 percent clean energy goals by local communities in Ohio.

Video of the meeting was posted on the Ashland County Commissioner’s Facebook page (Given’s presentation begins around the 28-minute mark in the Facebook video).

House Bill 33, the state budget bill, was the only bill that TEA lobbyist J. Robert Blazer reported lobbying on during the first four months of this year. 

Last week, Cleveland.com’s Jake Zuckerman reported on “little-noticed changes” made to the state budget bill that would allow gas utilities to charge customers as much as $67 million more annually for gas infrastructure development. 

Zuckerman also reported that the Ohio Senate version of the budget bill sought to create a $1 billion “All Ohio Future Fund” to help electric utilities “to help prepare sites in Ohio for major development projects.” 

“Organizations representing ratepayers warn that the amendments could leave Ohioans paying the bills for would-be developments that fail to launch,” Zuckerman wrote, while noting the Ohio Gas Association’s support for the new funding.

Republican state lawmakers reached a final deal on the budget bill on Friday. Governor Mike DeWine signed the new budget on July 4 and announced some line-item vetoes. It’s not clear at the time of publication of this article if all the provisions benefiting gas utilities described by Zuckerman made it into the final budget bill that reached DeWine’s desk. 

The final budget bill sent to DeWine did include the creation of the All Ohio Future Fund within the state treasury and allocated $667 million for the new fund. JobsOhio would play a role in identifying sites for eligible infrastructure projects, which would include gas projects.

“Money in the fund shall be used to provide financial assistance through loans, grants, or other incentives that promote economic development throughout the state, including gas infrastructure projects and other infrastructure improvements,” the budget bill said.

After this article was first published, DeWine announced a partial line-item veto that cut much of the language about the All Ohio Future Fund from the budget.

In a veto message, DeWine said his administration “supports creating a strategic plan for extending electricity and natural gas to high-priority sites in advance of an end user, while ensuring the process is fair to consumers.”

Any budget provisions that did not make the final cuts, or that do not survive DeWine’s vetoes, could resurface when the state legislature reconvenes after the summer break. 

The final push on the budget came just before the July 4 holiday weekend, during the same week when a federal judge sentenced Ohio’s former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder to 20 years in prison, and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Matt Borges to 5 years in jail. The two were convicted in a racketeering case that involved $60 million in bribes that FirstEnergy, a major investor-owned electric utility, paid for over $1 billion in ratepayer-funded bailouts included in Ohio’s House Bill 6 in 2019. The money was concealed through a network of dark money groups. 

Given was asked who is behind TEA during his presentation to the Ashland County Commissioners. Given responded: 

We are a coalition of groups that have an interest in utilizing more natural gas so, and it’s no secret if you know, if you look on online, you know Tom Rastin with Ariel Corporation has been a major supporter… they produce compressors to push the natural gas where it needs to go.

Given described Rastin and Ariel Corporation’s motives as “very pure” during his presentation. He also explained how TEA was taking a “hard line” against renewables. 

“…we need to dispel the myths… that we’re going to be able to power our grid with renewables,” Given said.  

“We need to… keep the pressure on the administration to allow more infrastructure development of pipeline because that’s really what’s going to empower our communities to grow economically,” he said. 

TEA was behind a Super PAC that supported Republican candidates in Ohio during the 2022 election and a new Ohio law that defined methane gas as green energy. The group has also campaigned aggressively against renewable energy development in Ohio, a state known for its efforts to block new wind and solar farms, and nationally. 

TEA’s president, Republican fundraiser Brooke Bodney, was mentioned multiple times during the trial of Householder and Borges. Bodney previously raised money for Householder’s dark group Generation Now, which pleaded guilty to racketeering in the case prior to the trial. 

Generation Now received a $250,000 wire payment in 2018 from Karen Buchwald Wright, the then-CEO of Ariel Corporation.

No one from Ariel Corporation or TEA has been charged in the ongoing federal criminal investigation involving H.B. 6.

Below is a full video of Given’s presentation to the Ashland County Commissioners, excerpted from the recording of the full county commissioner’s meeting that was found on Facebook.

Top image by revisorweb from Wikipedia CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.