COLUMBUS – Recently revealed records show an executive within the natural gas industry, from under cover of a dark money nonprofit, pushed state lawmakers to legally redefine the methane-based fossil fuel as “green energy” months before the idea was rushed through the statehouse in a 36-hour dash.
Since those records emerged Tuesday, Ohio’s Republican political leadership responded by either shrugging it off or doubling down.
Gov. Mike DeWine, through a spokesman, said the language redefining “green energy” was more of an “opinion statement” from lawmakers than a law with real teeth because it didn’t affect funding or regulations.
“Given the language was symbolic or opinion language, the Governor made the decision that this provision was not worth vetoing the entire bill over,” DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said.
House Bill 507 contained another key provision that expanded the right to drill for oil and gas in state parks. State law now says agency directors “shall” accept applications to do so. The law previously said they “may” accept those applications. The new law also prohibits cities and counties from banning pesticides within their borders.
A spokesman for state Senate President Matt Huffman, meanwhile, said in response to the industry ties to the bill that “far left environmentalists are having a meltdown about natural gas” because it’s “clean, reliable and affordable.”
“For the radical left, green energy is simply code for the color of money, and how it can use climate change scare tactics to fundraise millions of dollars while vilifying this country’s ability to be energy independent,” spokesman John Fortney said.
A spokesman for Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens didn’t respond to inquiries.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Its main component is methane, which is an estimated 10 times more potent trapper of heat than carbon dioxide. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, combustion of natural gas emits about half as much carbon dioxide as coal and 30 percent less than oil.
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, who leads the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the episode is a byproduct of one-party domination of the General Assembly. Republicans have neither the need nor the incentive, she said, to negotiate with Democrats or even air ideas out before the public in committee before signing them into law. Every Democrat and a small handful of Republicans opposed the bill.
“Natural gas is not green energy, and just because someone says it’s so doesn’t make it so,” she said. “Legislative policy is being passed at the behest of corporations. Which we should not be surprised about at this point, but it’s disturbing.”
As Cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer reported, Thomas Rastin emailed three lawmakers in July 2022 with a report on the natural gas industry, stating that “we are on the right track with natural gas is green energy.” GOP Sen. George Lang pledged to return from a legislative conference with “model legislation” to change Ohio law to reflect “that natural gas is clean energy.” The records were obtained by the Energy and Policy Institute, a clean energy advocacy organization.
In the final 36 working hours of the two-year legislative session in December, GOP senators stuffed an unrelated bill about poultry sales with the two gas provisions as well as the pesticide language. DeWine signed it into law after avoiding multiple inquiries from reporters about the bill.
Lang and Sen. Mark Romanchuk, who orchestrated the amendment, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rastin, campaign finance records show, is an executive vice president at Ariel Corp., a worldwide distributor of natural gas compressors. When he emailed lawmakers, Rastin used an email account under a domain name of The Empowerment Alliance (TEA), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that can raise unlimited sums of money without disclosing its funders. Those untraceable funds (hence the term dark money) can be spent on politics, and records show TEA pumped more than $1 million into Ohio midterm races in 2022.
Since 2018, Rastin has also donated $1.2 million to statehouse Republican candidates. His wife – Karen Buchwald Wright, CEO of Ariel Corp. and daughter of its founder – contributed about $39,000 as well. The two have contributed millions backing President Donald Trump and other federal candidates.
Little is publicly known about TEA. Its tax documents show its board is comprised of Brooke Bodney, a political fundraiser, and Eric Lycan, a Kentucky attorney who incorporates scores of such nonprofits.
However, in marketing materials for a 2021 panel at The Greenbrier resort, the conservative National Review Institute identified TEA as a “new project” of Rastin and Buchwald Wright.
Neither addressed TEA during their remarks, according to footage of the event. However, both repeatedly touted gas as a “green” resource.
“Well, what they are referring to as green energy is by and large solar panels and wind turbines. They’re referred to as renewables, but I think they should be called unreliables because that’s really what they are. They aren’t renewable,” Buchwald Wright said. “You’ve never seen a wind turbine rebuild itself. Solar panels work half of the 24-hour period, or maybe less than that. They are full of toxic chemicals. They’re damaging to the environment. They kill a lot of birds.”