Despite Nuclear Bailout Scandal, Republican Leaders Keep HB6
The Ohio House finished the bulk of its lame duck session work with the Republican speaker saying the chamber will not take any action on the nuclear power plant bailout law linke to the largest bribery scandal in Ohio politics. As part of Ohio Public Radio's series looking back on 2020, Andy Chow reports.
In the course of seven years, HB6 sends $1 billion in subsidies to nuclear plants, $140 million to solar farms, and hundreds of millions of dollars to coal plants, paid for by new charges on every Ohio electric user’s bills. All while cutting green energy mandates.
The beginning of 2020 had so much on its plate with the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn that it seemed like the controversial energy law had been left in the rear view mirror.
Then in July everything changed.
"We're here today to announce the arrest of Larry Householder the speaker of the house."
That's U.S. Attorney David DeVillers announcing that Republican House Speaker Larry Householder was under arrested for alleged racketeering. Investigators say Householder and four other defendants took part in a $61 million bribery scheme that helped Householder rise to power in order for him to pass the nuclear power plant bailout. An unnamed utility believed to be FirstEnergy was also involved. FirstEnergy’s former subsidiary Energy Harbor owns the plants.
Householder was removed as speaker, replaced by Republican Bob Cupp who said the House will look at how they could repeal and even replace HB6, the law now tainted by scandal.
"One of the first legislative priorities, obviously, is to take another look at House Bill 6. And there's been several bills introduced to repeal that. There's interest also in taking a look at replacing it. And so we will be consulting with the caucus in deciding when's the appropriate time to do that."
But as time went by, lawmakers started to waiver on meeting that goal. Opponents of HB6 said the first sign of was when Cupp created a special committee to have more hearings on the subject.
Democratic Representative Sedrick Denson said Republicans were dragging their feet.
"For the life of me, now that we figured out all the games, in my opinion, that had been played through House Bill 6, why would we want to be on the hook and/or in the position to look as though we're not moving in the direction of, at least, disassociating ourselves with something that we've just learned."
In November, the most ardent supporters of HB6 won re-election, even the now-indicted Householder. The election seemed to change the narrative with a possible repeal becoming less likely.
So with just weeks left before the session ended, House Republicans started entertaining other options, such as a partial repeal or a delay.
Republican Representative Dick Stein says protecting nuclear energy is still good policy despite the tainted process.
"It provides 90 percent of Ohio's carbon free energy generation in this state and 15 percent of its base load. Those are all policy reasons why we felt our I felt and I think other members felt HB6 was an advantage."
Cupp said, in the end, the chamber couldn't reach a consensus.
" Diversity of views, that is what is good and appropriate public policy, I think has forestalled a consensus on what should be done."
But critics fire back at that sentiment. Bills to repeal HB6 had enough co-sponsors between Republicans and Democrats to pass the House with a majority. With FirstEnergy's lobbyist pleading guilty to the racketeering charge, it's been unclear where the pressure to keep HB6 in place has been coming from.
Republican Senate President Larry Obhof said he wanted a complete repeal but says the lack of organization by the House as the reason it didn't get done.
Cupp says the House will take another look at the issue in the next General Assembly. Meanwhile, a county judge blocked the new charges created by HB6 from being attached to everyone's electric bills until the court case plays out.