SUDDES: Voters deserve to know more about HB 6 mess before election

Hard to say whether it’ll be for better or for worse, but Ohio is approaching a series of big changes, depending on November’s election.

Ohio may or may not find itself with a new governor. Incumbent Republican Mike DeWine is facing Democratic challenger Nan Whaley, Dayton’s former mayor. But Ohio will for sure have a new U.S. senator. And Ohio’s Supreme Court will have a new chief justice, while the Ohio House of Representatives will have a new speaker.

Meanwhile, one thing that seemingly won’t change, not unless federal investigators and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio stop seeming to slow-walk it: Less than full disclosure about the FirstEnergy Corp.-House Bill 6 scandal.

November’s election is 85 days away. Yet voters at this point have arguably sketchy information on the interplay between DeWine’s administration and HB 6, which DeWine signed as soon as the General Assembly passed it in July 2019.

The federal investigation into HB 6 surfaced in July 2020. HB 6, originally aimed at subsidizing two money-losing FirstEnergy nuclear power plants, still costs Ohio consumers millions of dollars in subsidies for two coal-fueled power plants, one in Indiana. Running cost of subsidies as of last week: $276 million.

The HB 6 mess is Ohio’s biggest public corruption scandal in 219 years of statehood. It’s spattered legislators of both parties and the DeWine administration. Yet somehow, nobody saw anything, and nobody knew anything. That’s hard to believe given that governors appoint the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and its chairs, including ex-PUCO Chair Samuel Randazzo, a DeWine appointee who resigned after the FBI raided his residence. (Ohio’s Senate unanimously confirmed Randazzo to lead the PUCO.)

That raid, in November 2000, came four months after a federal grand jury had indicted then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Perry County Republican, on public corruption charges linked to the General Assembly’s passage of HB 6. His trial is set to begin next year. Householder is presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

Agreed, utility regulation is about as complicated as legal matters can get. The more lawyers, the more billable hours, which explain paperwork blizzards and procedural falderal.

Example: The Office of Consumers’ Counsel, which represents residential utility consumers in rate cases, has no power to issue subpoenas; the PUCO must sign subpoenas for the counsel’s office. On Thursday, after a five-week wait, the PUCO, through a staff member, sent the signed subpoena to the counsel’s office. The counsel’s office wants to serve the subpoena on FirstEnergy’s former CEO, Charles (Chuck) Jones, whom the utility fired after the HB 6 mess erupted.

The number of people and entities enmeshed in the HB 6 mess – and the PUCO’s workload – might make a five-week delay in the sign-off reasonable. Repeat: Might. Still, every pre-election week eaten up by delays – for whatever reason – is one less week for voters and consumers to learn before Nov. 8, about how their state government conducted itself in the lead-up to HB 6.

DeWine signed a partial repeal of HB 6 in March 2021, junking the latter’s proposed nuclear power subsidies while leaving in place (a) HB 6′s subsidies for the two coal-fired plants and (b) repeal of state energy-efficiency and renewable-energy programs. Yet HB 6 has figured hardly at all in this year’s gubernatorial contest, except for Whaley’s vow that if voters elect her, she will fire the PUCO’s five commissioners, among other measures she’d take.

That’s what has been getting lost – utility regulation in the sunshine, and in the public interest, including the full story, before Election Day, of just how House Bill 6 happened.

Thomas Suddes is a former legislative reporter with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and writes from Ohio University. You can reach him at

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