Recent news

Local victory on utility shut offs

Jul 14, 2020 2:42 PM

CLEVELAND -- Ohio's water shut off moratorium ended July 10, putting thousands of Ohioans at risk of losing access to their water.

In recognition of the vital role that access to water and power plays in fighting this pandemic and keeping our community healthy, the City of Cleveland has announced that the shutoff moratorium for Cleveland Public Power and Cleveland Water will last through the end of the city's State of Emergency, or July 31. We're encouraged that the city has committed to preserving these protections through the declared emergency, but the city must go further to ensure that residents are able to stay connected to power and water for the length of the pandemic.

Without water, how will residents wash their hands to stay healthy? Without power, how will our vulnerable neighbors power lifesaving medical equipment or stay cool during these heatwaves? Without electricity, how will our children use the internet to attend school in the fall?

Access to utilities is a basic human right, and our leaders must treat it as such. It's never OK to be without access to utilities. We need guaranteed statewide access for utilities for the length of the pandemic and beyond. 


A pandemic and surging summer heat leave thousands struggling to pay utility bills

Jul 14, 2020 2:00 PM

Protesters in Cleveland gathered for a caravan for energy justice on April 29, 2020

"While mandatory and voluntary moratoriums aim to prevent waves of shut-offs during the pandemic, many states do not have debt forgiveness for mounting energy bills after the crisis passes. 

Not all utility companies have adequately communicated changes to their disconnection policies to customers, said Kaiba White, energy policy and outreach specialist for Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization. Her office reached out to Texas' electric cooperatives and municipal utilities and found that many companies' policies were often difficult to find or not publicly posted. 

'It's ultimately up to the customer to call,' said White, who found that often when people did call and ask about their utility company's policy on shut-offs, the initial response would be to pressure the customer to pay outstanding bills, instead of informing them about available relief."

-- Maddie Kornfeld, Inside Climate News

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Good Columbus Progress Report on Cheaper Utilities

Jul 10, 2020 2:19 PM

Wind and wuthering.

"Wind and wuthering." by stuant63 on Creative Commons

Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther announced in mid-February that he would pursue a community-choice energy-aggregation program to reach 100% green power by 2022, a move applauded by Ohio Citizen Action and the Ohio Consumers’ Power Alliance. This program would allow the city to negotiate bulk electricity purchases to get lower rates and cleaner power generation for all -- both smart ideas -- and it continues to move forward after Tuesday’s City Council hearing. Thanks so much to all the Columbus City residents who are members of OCA for sending in their testimony for this week’s hearing!

Now, the Columbus City Council is set for a July 20 vote on a decision to file the paperwork needed to get the community energy utility aggregation initiative on the November ballot, a move that would “fundamentally change the way that the community addresses energy and climate change,” said Councilman Rob Dorans. Then, when voters approve the measure, details of the plan will be submitted to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for its approval. The entire project is on a tight timeline, with a goal of having a new supply in place by the summer of 2022.

-- Rachael Belz, Executive Director Ohio Citizen Action 

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Know Your Rights: FREE Legal Information for Ohioans

Jul 08, 2020 1:35 PM

The pandemic has made life more difficult and stressful for so many of us. Is someone you know having trouble making their rent or being hounded by a debt collector? Have they had trouble getting their unemployment checks? Perhaps they are being harassed at work or have concerns about working conditions? Or they're concerned about their utilities being shut off or their grandma's treatment in a nursing home. Maybe they're a vet and need to access those services. There are so many citizen concerns that could have fair resolutions if people could truly exercise their rights -- and there is a comprehensive website that can be very helpful. Ohio Legal Help is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 2018 to help all Ohioans access the civil justice system. They leverage technology so that all Ohioans can understand their legal options, make informed decisions and connect to state and local resources. Their helpful website provides plain language legal information, self-help tools and constantly updated connections to local legal and community resources that can help people resolve their legal issues.

In 2015, Ohio’s Task Force on Access to Justice, convened by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, recommended specific actions to help close the civil justice information gap. The sixth recommendation from the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Task Force Report was to “develop and maintain a statewide website devoted to providing free and accurate legal information to Ohio residents.” In response, in 2017 a Steering Committee -- including the Supreme Court of Ohio, the Ohio Judicial Conference, the Ohio Clerk of Courts Association, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio Access to Justice Foundation, the Alliance of Ohio Legal Aids, the Consortium of Ohio County Law Libraries, the Ohio Library Council, and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network -- came together to develop Ohio Legal Help. Today, these stakeholder groups continue to guide the content and tools developed for Ohio Legal Help through our advisory committee. This service is needed now more than ever. Please help Ohio Citizen Action spread the word.

The scandal of millions of Americans deprived of running water (Podcast)

Jul 02, 2020 2:16 PM

History | Cleveland Water Department

The Public Utilities Building, located at 1201 Lakeside Ave., opens, consolidating all Cleveland Water management and business functions into a single location. Photo from Cleveland Water

"Guardian US environmental justice reporter Nina Lakhani tells Anushka Asthana about her water crisis investigation, which looked into why running water is becoming unaffordable for millions of Americans across the US. Water bills weigh heavily on many Americans as utilities hike prices to pay for environmental clean-ups, infrastructure upgrades and climate emergency defences to deal with floods and droughts. Federal funding for America’s ageing water system has plummeted, and as a result a growing number of households are unable to afford to pay their bills.

Albert Pickett inherited water debts from his mother after she died. Pickett applied to get on to a repayment plan, but the water department refused as he didn’t have the money, several hundred dollars, required as a deposit. Cleveland Water didn’t inform Pickett, who survives on disability benefits, about his right to appeal – instead, they turned off the taps in 2013. 'Without water you can’t do anything. I lost my family, my wellbeing, my self-esteem. It was humiliating, like I was less than human,' he says."

Click here for 30 minute podcast

Read Albert Pickett's story here

Coronavirus is creating a crisis of energy insecurity

Jul 02, 2020 1:26 PM

Air conditioners in Brooklyn Heights. An estimated 65,000 people visit the emergency room each year due to acute heat illnesses; however, this summer could be comparatively severe. (Credit: Bonnie Natko/flickr))

"In addition, like COVID-19 itself, energy insecurity has disproportionately worsened for vulnerable populations. African American (16 percent) and Hispanic (19 percent) households were far more likely to report difficulty paying an energy bill in the last month compared to White respondents (9 percent).

The problem is also worse for households with young children, those with disabled members, and those who rely on an electronic medical device.

Respondents who power a medical device at home were twice as likely not to be able to pay an energy bill in the past month, three times as likely to receive a notice from their utility provider that their energy is in jeopardy of being disconnected, and more than four times as likely to have their service shut off.

These heightened levels of energy insecurity could spur a health crisis in low-income households by exposing at-risk populations to the summer heat while simultaneously hindering their ability to seek or afford medical care. While some policies have been implemented, the situation remains dire as several of these measures are temporary; however, there is a path forward for policymakers to protect vulnerable families by suspending all utility disconnections, forgiving late payment fees, and increasing funds for energy bill assistance throughout the hot summer months."

-- Michelle Graff and Trevor Memmott, Environmental Health News 

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Racial disparities persist in electric service. Is ‘willful blindness’ to blame?

Jul 02, 2020 12:48 PM

'With regard to disconnections, we adhere to the disconnection process defined by the Ohio laws and regulations, none of which are defined by race or ethnic group,' said Dayton Power & Light spokesperson Mary Ann Kabel.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel does get aggregate information about complaints from the PUCO. However, a 2011 cutback in funding ended the counsel’s ability to run its own complaint hotline. And the PUCO’s system for cataloguing complaint actions doesn’t include a separate code for allegations of racism. That would make a search through hundreds of individual filings unwieldy at best and possibly not feasible.

'I’m not sitting here saying that our utility companies are consciously turning off minorities more than other customers or white folks,' said Dave Rinebolt, executive director and counsel at Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy. 'But until they know whether the impacts are disparate, we can’t really make that determination.'”

-- Kathiann Kowalski, Energy News Network

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How energy issues and civil rights issues intersect

Jun 30, 2020 2:59 PM

“'African Americans are more likely to live near coal-fired power plants, oil and gas refining plants, [and other] energy generating facilities, and suffer the ill effects of that,' Patterson said. That’s largely driven by lower incomes plus present and past patterns of housing segregation, she noted. Or, if they’re not near a power plant, they’re often near other industrial facilities that burn fossil fuels.

Black and low-income Americans are more likely to die from power plant pollution, a 2019 study by Stanford and University of Washington researchers found. A 2017 NAACP report also detailed problems with oil and gas fumes. 

Overall, Black children are more likely to be hospitalized for asthma attacks and to die from those attacks, Patterson said. 

'African American adults are more likely to have lung disease but less likely to smoke,' she added."

-- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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Revealed: millions of Americans can’t afford water as bills rise 80% in a decade

Jun 23, 2020 3:22 PM

An exclusive analysis of 12 US cities shows the combined price of water and sewage bills increased by an average of 80% between 2010 and 2018. This nation's growing water affordability crisis comes as the pandemic underscores the need for universal access to clean water. The research also shows that rising bills are not only hurting the poorest residents but working Americans as well.

A truck driver from Warrensville Heights, Ohio is having real problems making ends meet when water costs are so high. "I’ve done two payment plans, but I’m still in foreclosure, it’s like they’re trying to make me homeless. There is no way I’m using the amount of water they’re charging me for but I’m in a no-win situation, I don’t want to lose my home so I have to keep finding the money.”

As the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight, we must fight to ensure access to water, power, and internet. Please sign Ohio Citizen Action's petition to Gov. DeWine demanding state action to ensure all utilities are affordable and accessible to all Ohioans.


- Article Below -


The cost of running water and sewage is a burden for large numbers of poor Americans 

Guardian graphic // Source: Roger Cotton as part of an international Guardian investigation. *Low-income = living below 200% of the FPL; Very low-income: below 50% of the FPL

"Rising costs are disproportionately impacting poor Americans. In New Orleans, Santa Fe and Cleveland, about three quarters of low income residents live in neighbourhoods where average water and sewage bills are unaffordable.

Amid rising costs and diminishing federal dollars, the use of punitive measures – shutoffs and liens (a legal claim on the house linked to a debt which can lead to foreclosure) – is widespread. Just like mortgage foreclosures, water shutoffs and liens can force affected households to abandon their homes.

Jarome Montgomery, 48, a truck driver from Warrensville Heights in Cleveland has borrowed from his partner, mother, grandmother and sisters to repay more than $30,000 to the water department since 2013, and avoid his home being auctioned off at a tax sale. Despite this, he still owes over $5,000 in water and sewer charges including penalties and interest."

-- Nina Lahkani, The Guardian 

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Strong Bipartisan Majorities Want Government to do more about Climate Change

Jun 23, 2020 2:17 PM

Blog post by Lisa M. Maatz, Senior Advisor/Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action

While climate science deniers get a disproportionate amount of attention, a new poll from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows two-thirds of Americans believe the federal government is not doing enough to address the effects of climate change. It's pretty simple in the final analysis: Americans see the harmful effects of climate change on a daily basis, in their country and in their own backyard. The Pew poll found that 63% of U.S. adults say climate change is affecting their community, and 65% say the federal government is doing "too little" about the problem. Even in the pandemic age, there continues to be clear momentum for strong policies that protect the environment and consumers alike.

Ohio Citizen Action members didn't need a poll to give us these facts, but the confirmation is welcome especially in an age of misinformation and hyperpartisanship that has created a vocal minority of climate deniers. Indeed, in some circles this denial has become a political litmus test as well as a convenient crutch for big corporate polluters. In fact, Americans strongly support several policies including "Planting about a trillion trees" (90%), "Tougher restrictions on power plant carbon emissions" (80%),  and "Tougher fuel efficiency standards for cars" (71%). 

Even better, 73% of Americans believe the federal government should tax businesses based on their carbon emissions. OCA would take that a step farther to say such taxes should be dedicated to the research and implementation of concrete policies that will make a real impact on climate change. OCA strongly believes -- along with 79% of Americans -- that developing alternative sources of energy should be our focus, especially wind and solar. Only a clear minority believes we should give priority to expanding the production of oil, coal and natural gas (20%). Lastly, OCA has long advocated that government regulations are necessary to encourage businesses and individuals to rely more on renewable energy -- and this poll further confirms we are on the right track with those principles.


"Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Should Do More on Climate" by Alec Tyson and Brian Kennedy, Pew Research Center