Former Rep. Zack Space of Vorys Advisors discusses D.C., clean coal & Ohio politics

Zack Space is an American politician and a former Congressman, representing Ohio’s 18th congressional district from 2007 until 2011. He is a member of the Democratic Party. Space serve on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as on the Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection; Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet; and Subcommittee on Health. Space currently serves as a principal for Vorys Advisors LLC, a subsidiary of the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease.

Transcript below:

Chuck Conconi: Welcome to Focus Washington. I’m Chuck Conconi. My guest today is an old friend of mine, former Congressman Zack Space. We come from the same hometown. Zack, thank you for being here.

Zack Space: It’s great to be here again, Chuck.

Chuck Conconi: You know, we both come from coal country, both us from right in the heart of coal country. I know a lot of coal is still being produced there, both deep mining and strip mining. You’ve been talking a lot about clean coal. What do you think the possibility of that is?

Zack Space: I think it is an enormous opportunity and possibility. I happen to be in the camp that believes we need to do something to curb carbon emissions. And as a conservative Democrat from coal country, there is some opposition to that notion, from a culture that has grown up around coal for the last hundred years. But it is becoming a reality for a lot of people.

We have an abundance of coal in the region and we also have a lot of coal-fired electric generation facilities in the region. And interestingly enough, we also now have, in our old stomping ground in Eastern Ohio, this massive oil and gas field, the Utica play, part of the Marcellus play. It presents a great opportunity for enhanced oil recovery using carbon that is produced by these generators.

So I think we are at a point now where we can actually see the possibility of a fully integrated business model that would capture carbon that is being burned from the coal that mined from the region, taking that carbon and injecting it into these wells to increase production. Some studies show that up to 60 percent increases could be achieved by these carbon injections. This could be a long term and feasible solution to the serious problem of carbon emissions.

Chuck Conconi: Is that why you are in town—talking about that issue?

Zack Space: Yes, it is one of the issues we are talking about. The Utica play has had an enormous benefit not just on the region but the entire country in terms of our ability to gain energy independence. We are already seeing this in other parts of the country, in Mississippi in particular, where they are actually creating large carbon markets through production in Texas. They are sequestering and capturing carbon from the emissions and injecting it into the ground increasing production.

Vorys Advisors is the firm I work for now. We are establishing a stronger presence here in Washington and we are beginning to do a lot of energy-related work. And we want to come here and talk about it.

Chuck Conconi: Are you going to do some lobbying on that? Is that the idea?

Zack Space: We will be doing some government relations, helping formulate proper, sensible and in many ways ideologically moderate policies around coal, around oil and gas production and around the environment. It makes a lot of sense.

Chuck Conconi: With the change now on Capitol Hill, with the Republicans taking control, you had a line in an op ed you wrote for The Hill paper, which struck me. “It will require from conservatives that climate change is real, an acknowledgment from liberals that we can’t magically erase coal from the nation’s energy policy”. How do you bring those factions together?

Zack Space: It is really a perfect storm that makes both preservation of the environment and an understanding of the importance of a robust electric grid, low energy costs, that makes them both possible.

I am a board member of an organization called the CoalBlue Project. Our objective is to provide assistance to the Democratic policymakers, legislators in particular, around the issue of coal. Especially those from coal country have really gotten a bad rap. And I think it is certainly possible, and in my opinion, it makes perfect sense, to be both coal-friendly as well as environmentally-friendly. We have coal in abundance, it is the cheapest form of generating power.

Chuck Conconi: It is one of the dirtiest forms.

Zack Space: That’s right. But we can’t afford to walk away from it. It would put us at an international competitive disadvantage. It would cause electrical rates for both residences and small businesses to increase dramatically if we suddenly stopped burning coal.

At the same time, we recognize that there is a problem with carbon emissions. Certainly there are EPA carbon regulations that in all likelihood are going to go into effect next year are going to require that those carbon emission [controls] happen. We think the best way to do that and still preserve the integrity of the electric grid is to utilize this technology, push this technology, so we can actually burn coal with a carbon neutral footprint. That’s a very exciting development. And we can do it in an economically sensible way given that there is emerging a vast market for this carbon, whether it’s oil and gas extraction, or mineable coal bed methane extraction. We can actually enhance our energy independence while we are being a cleaner energy producing nation.

Chuck Conconi: Quick last question for you because we are running out of time. What happened in Ohio and what’s happening politically around the country? Ohio seems to have nobody left in the Democratic Party.

Zach Space: We are becoming a very rare breed. In Ohio we have every statewide office in firm Republican control, no real close races. Both houses in the legislature are predominated, super-majorities of the Republican party.

I think that’s a reflection of a couple of things; voter turnout in non-presidential years is very lax. I think you will see a bit of a bounce back in the presidential election in 2016.

It is also a product of re-districting that happened after the 2010 census. Since the Republicans were in charge—and make no mistake if the Democrats had been in charge they would have done the same thing—we have now created a process where it has become almost impossible for Democrats to regain control of the legislature. And, again given the low voter turnout, it comes as no surprise that the Republicans were able to easily win all the statewide offices.

Again, I look for a rebound effect in 2016. Whether it comes all the way back, I don’t know. Things seem to be trending Republican but we have seen that before. I think it is a reflection, in large part, of the President’s unpopularity. But again, I have a lot of hope and a firm conviction that there will be more balance in Ohio. I think, generally speaking, Ohio is a very moderate state in terms of the ideological sensibilities of most of the constituents there. I think that will be reflected in future elections.

Chuck Conconi: Zack, thanks so much for being here. Please come back again

Zack Space: Happy to be here and it’s great to see you again, Chuck.

Chuck Conconi: I’m Chuck Conconi and this has been Focus Washington.

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