Ohio governor backs repeal of ‘tainted’ energy law

Source: BY Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2020

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who had defended an energy law at the center of a $61 million racketeering case, reversed course yesterday and called for the repeal and replacement of the measure he signed into law exactly a year ago.

The development followed a report that DeWine’s legislative director, Dan McCarthy, had served as president of the dark money group, Generation Now, that’s at the center of the scandal and led to the arrest of Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R) (Energywire, July 22).

DeWine, a Republican who signed H.B. 6 into law hours after it was passed, said he still supports the policy — specifically, subsidies for the state’s two nuclear plants.

“As I thought about this and kind of let the whole story sink in … it was clear to me that however good this policy is, it’s going to forever be tainted,” DeWine said during a news conference. “I don’t know of any way of backing it out other than the Legislature repealing it.”

The repeal of H.B. 6 would entail huge financial risks for Energy Harbor, the owner of two nuclear plants that receive $150 million in annual subsidies, as well as the Sammis coal-fired plant in Ohio, which was headed for retirement before DeWine signed the bill into law.

A company spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on DeWine’s call to repeal the law.

Reopening the energy policy in debate could also revive Ohio’s clean energy standards, which were effectively muted by H.B. 6.

The bill also cemented into law subsidies for two large coal plants along the Ohio River that are owned by a group of utilities including American Electric Power and Duke Energy.

“All things would be on the table” if lawmakers decide to revisit H.B. 6, DeWine said. “We should have a debate about all of the issues.”

Clean energy advocates credited DeWine for changing his stance on an H.B. 6 repeal.

“He’s doing the right thing because the process is so tainted,” said Robert Kelter, a lawyer for the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, who testified against H.B. 6 last year. “This was a very complicated bill, and a lot of legislators didn’t understand it and looked to Householder for leadership.”

But clean energy groups have work to do to make legislators understand the benefits of energy efficiency, which is the cheapest energy resource available, he said.

It’s yet unclear how or whether that will happen. First, DeWine noted, the Ohio House will need to appoint a new speaker. Householder has indicated he doesn’t intend to resign, despite calls to do so by DeWine and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R), among others.

Householder is charged with racketeering on suspicion of orchestrating a $60 million bribery scheme to first get elected speaker and then pass H.B. 6. Four consultants, lobbyists and advisers also face federal charges along with Generation Now.

The company that was the sole funder of Generation Now, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., hasn’t been charged but was referenced in the court affidavit.

FirstEnergy was served subpoenas by federal investigators Tuesday.

In a statement yesterday afternoon, CEO Chuck Jones reiterated that the company will cooperate with investigators.

“We will ensure our company’s involvement in supporting H.B. 6 is understood as accurately as possible,” Jones said. “I believe that FirstEnergy acted ethically in this matter. At no time did our support for Ohio’s nuclear plants interfere with or supersede our ethical obligations to conduct our business properly. I believe the facts will become clear as the investigation progresses.”

Despite uncertainty over the timing of an H.B. 6 repeal and what might replace it, it’s clear that momentum is building to do so.

“The governor’s statement about the level of stink attached to this bill, I think, puts a lot of pressure on them,” Kelter said.