This past week’s climate policy discussion has been more positive and inspiring than in a long time, largely thanks to President Obama’s planned carbon regulations in the power sector.

However, there is also some bad news: in Ohio, the House “approved a bill on Wednesday that would roll back the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency law, making Ohio the first state to reverse standards meant to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.” Since the Senate already approved their version of this bill, all that is needed is the Governor’s signature. While environmental groups are trying to convince Governor Kasich (Republican) to veto the bill, it  doesn’t seem too likely at this point.

The Ohio case is worrying because it is the first success of this year’s conservative assault on renewable portfolio standards. Success in Ohio may empower and mobilize the anti-renewables coalition to redouble their efforts in other states. Until Ohio, no other state had rolled back a renewable portfolio standard despite a wave of attacks.

The Ohio case has some typical features. The campaigning and voting were largely split by party lines, with Republicans supporting retrenchment and Democrats opposing. The primary interest group supporting retrenchment seems to have been electric utilities. That’s not very surprising, given that Ohio’s power sector is heavily dependent on coal.

Retrenchment was opposed by environmentalists, the majority of the public (to the extent that they were aware of the legislative motion), the clean energy industry, and many businesses outside the power sector, including manufacturers and the state’s largest employer, Honda.

This constellation of interests shows how anti-renewable campaigners can win. A favorable partisan balance (Republican dominance), strong support from conservative activists and lobbyists, and the political clout of electric utilities dependent on coal conspired to support retrenchment.

Other states have shown that rolling back renewable energy policies is hard. Ohio shows that it can sometimes be done, even though the American political system generally discourages policy retrenchment.

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