Portman’s focus on energy at OMEGA

CADIZ Energy was the prime focus as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman was the featured speaker Wednesday during the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association meeting at Wallace Lodge in Cadiz,

Portman, R-Ohio, said he was excited about the possibilities for economic development stemming from the energy boom as he took a bus tour of MarkWest Energy’s $2.2 billion Cadiz natural gas processing operation Wednesday. The senator tempered that with a fear that over-regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Bureaucracy could “kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”

On summer recess from the Senate, Portman said while on he Senate floor he has been working on economic development and over-regulation. One of the main themes while he is home is talking about energy, ‘”We’ve just got this tremendous opportunity; and if Washington does not get in the way it will be a real job creator for Ohio.”

Portman cited a study out of Columbus which predicts that 200,000 to 300,000 jobs could be created just from Marcellus and Utica Shale related industries. “I believe this is a sustainable resource,” Portman told the bipartisan gathering. “It’s about re-industrializing Ohio. We are going to see a lot of jobs coming back.”

“I am for regulation. I think it needs to be safe and we need to be sure we dont have ground water contamination,” Portman explained. “There is no substantiating case of that in Ohio.”

“Ohio is fortunate to have had good energy regulations in place since the ’70s,” the senator added.

“While I am in support of having a regulatory process and enforcement; Let’s also not over-regulate. Let’s not squander this opportunity.”

“Ohio has one of the greatest manufacturing infrastructures in the world,” Portman stated. “But there is a gap on the employment side of the equation, we have 400,000 looking for work and there are 100,000 jobs open. We need skilled workers.”

“We are competing with Indiana and we are competing with India,” he said,”We need to start with Pre-K and all the way through to educate our workforce.”

The senator illustrated his point by relating a trip to Guernsey County to turkey hunt earlier this year, he had a hard time finding a hotel room because so many are booked by oil and natural gas workers and he was struck by the image of a hallway lined with muddy boots. “Unfortunately the parking lot was full of pickup trucks with out of state plates.”

Portman said another stumbling block to economic growth is the cost of regulation, “I am on the energy committee and there are 6 or 7 agencies or departments coming up with overlapping regulations.”

“We need to streamline and consolidate the permitting process,” the senator recommended permitting reform. “The delays are cooling the incentive to invest, America used to be the number one nation for international investment and now we have dropped to number 17 on the list due to prohibitive permitting policies.”

“As an example, American Municipal Power had some 34 different permits for an energy project to place hydro on the Ohio River,” Portman explained. “There is currently bi-partisan sponsored legislation which will require agencies to go through a cost verses benefit analysis to determine the least burdensome alternative to promote rapid job creation.

“The President says ‘We are out of the woods,’ and says we have ‘Turned the corner’ but we haven’t,” said Portman. “We created just 195,000 jobs and most of those are part-time, Obamacare is not helping.”

“Obamacare has been a drain on employment since its passage and that the added costs and regulations to businesses across our nation mean less jobs and less economic growth,” Portman continued.

In the question and answer session Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile asked about coal jobs in the Ohio Valley. Gentile cited a morning meeting with Belmont County officials and Murray Energy to review plans for a proposed surface mine.

“The permit application from Murray Energy was pulled out by the EPA for what is called an enhanced review,” said Gentile. “Which is just another method they use to stall applications.”

The approved plan from the EPA left “huge chucks” of the coal stranded due to reasons dubbed as “ridiculous” by Gentile who asked if there was a any relief in sight?

“There is a sense and evidence that there is a war on coal,” Portman replied acknowledging that thousands of families and the economy in the region rely on coal both directly and indirectly. “The foot dragging by the EPA is intentional and is making it impossible to invest in coal.

“Unfortunately it is going to require an administration that is coal friendly to change the environment in Washington,” Portman said that there are currently 12 coal fired power plants in Ohio facing shut down. “Most of these are peak stations and while the impact will not be felt immediately, during summer and winter peak usage periods the loss will become evident.”

“Compliance to the new EPA regulations is not worth the cost, and while some could be switched over to natural gas, that will take time and also money.”

The discussion also touched on a problem employers in the area have found with employees who are not able to pass a drug screening. Portman said that he was aware of the problem and was looking into methods to implement better enforcement of current laws to try and curb the drug abuse problems.

Cadiz Mayor Kenneth Zitko and Harrison County commissioners Don Bethel, Bill Host, Dale Norris and Auditor Patrick Moore were in attendance. Others leaders participating Wednesday included Ohio Senator Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville; Ohio Representatives Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, and Andy Thompson, R-Marietta as well as representatives for Gov. John Kasich; Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor; Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio; and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

Palmer may be reached at mpalmer@timesleaderonline.com