A bipartisan group of state legislators has called for the repeal of House Bill 6, the energy bill that was passed in 2019 after bribes were allegedly paid to Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates.
On Thursday Gov. Mike DeWine, who signed the bill into law, said legislators should repeal and replace the law with something that the public can have confidence in. DeWine had said on Wednesday he still supported the bill because it protects 1,500 Ohio nuclear plant jobs and is part of a balanced energy policy that includes nuclear energy. But in comments about how the bill came to be approved, DeWine on Thursday said, “the process by which it was created stinks. It’s terrible. It’s not acceptable.”
“That process I believe has forever tainted the bill and now the law itself,” DeWine said.
Householder, R-Glenford, as well a 501(c)(4) nonprofit called Generation Now he allegedly controlled and four other men were charged in federal court on Tuesday with conspiracy to participate in a racketeering scheme. An Akron-based utility that was not named in court documents is accused of paying $60 million in bribes to get Householder elevated to speaker, get HB 6 passed and thwart a citizen-led effort to repeal it.
The bill bailed out two nuclear plants owned by a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron until the publicly traded company spun off the subsidiary, now known as Energy Harbor Corp. The bill also provided money to Ohio Valley Electric Corp., which is partly owned by DP&L, AEP and others. FirstEnergy said it received subpoenas on Tuesday and that it was cooperating with the investigation.
HB6 raised rates for all electric customers in the state with fees that total more than $1 billion through 2027. The controversial bill also rolled back the state’s renewable energy mandates.
“Failure to repeal HB6 would allow it to stand as a monument to the corrupting power of dark money,” said state Sen. Minority Whip Sean J. O’Brien, who is co-sponsoring a bill to repeal the law.
“We will repeal HB6 and we will work on campaign financing,” O’Brien pledged at a Wednesday news conference.
He said it is the duty of legislators to “act in the best interest of all Ohioans. This includes not taking bribes to further the interests of individual corporations of other entities, and not passing legislation that will put a significant financial burden on taxpayers just for power’s sake and to line the pockets of oneself and a few select cronies.”
State Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Avondale, also called for repeal.
“This legislation raised serious concerns when it was introduced last year and it’s now clear that bribery and corruption were involved in its passage,” said Thomas. “We must immediately repeal House Bill 6 because hardworking Ohioans should not continue to fund this fraudulent scheme any longer. A few elected officials betrayed public trust and the legislature must act swiftly to restore it.”
John Fortney, who is press secretary for Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said there are many factors to consider as lawmakers consider their options with the law.
“Among them, the thousands of jobs tied to the plants, and school district budgets that could be affected by any policy change,” Fortney said. “The final version of the bill that was signed into law, was much different compared to the original bill the House passed.”
Democrats are in the minority in both the state House and Senate, but repeal is getting support from across the aisle in the House.
On Thursday state Reps. Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario, and Laura Lanese, R-Grove City, will hold a press conference discussing proposed legislation to repeal HB6.
State Rep. Michael J. Skindell, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, on Wednesday announced a plan to introduce a bill repealing HB6 and will ask their co-sponsors to also co-sponsor the bill proposed by Romanchuck and Lanese.
“It was actual corruption or perceived corruption that resulted in getting this bill passed,” Skindell said. “And because of that, in and of itself the bill is corrupt and ratepayers are paying.”
He said corruption must be quickly rooted out.
“Ohio has been under a one-party rule for decades and what we are seeing are the consequences of that undemocratic arrangement,” Skindell said. “With deeply gerrymandered districts, Republican politicians feel invincible and are more beholden to special interest groups and corporations than they are to their own constituents. HB 6 was the manifestation of this alleged corruption.”
Columbus-based conservative think tank, The Buckeye Institute, has long opposed the subsidies in HB 6 but supported its rollbacks of energy efficiency standards, said Greg Lawson, research fellow. The group also called for repeal this week.
“It was pretty apparent that it was a bad deal all around,” Lawson said.
HB6′s fees go into place for consumers and businesses in January 2021 and the law raises $170 million annually, said Matt Schilling, spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Jennifer Young, manager of external communications for First Energy Corp., said the company on Tuesday received subpoenas in connection with the federal investigation and “we intend to fully cooperate.”
“I don’t have any additional information to add today, but I would like to note that FirstEnergy Corp. does not have any ownership or interest in the nuclear plants which HB6 supports,” Young said on Wednesday. “Energy Harbor owns and operates the plants and is a separate entity from FirstEnergy Corp. As such, I can only speak on behalf of FirstEnergy Corp., not Energy Harbor.”
Jason Copsey, a spokesman for Energy Harbor did not respond to a request for comment on the repeal effort but on Tuesday said, “We are reviewing the complaint and will cooperate fully with the government’s investigation. "
Also charged in the case along with Householder were former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, 48, of Bexley; lobbyist Neil Clark, 67, of Columbus; lobbyist and Ohio Civil Rights Commission member Juan Cespedes, 40, of Columbus; and political consultant Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, of Columbus.
All five men were arrested on criminal complaints and made initial appearances via video conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie K. Bowman in Cincinnati. They did not submit pleas.
Other stories by Lynn Hulsey