Ohio House takes step to repeal law tied to bribery scandal

Source: By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Ohio House is set to begin formal discussions this week on a bill to repeal an energy law that federal prosecutors allege was at the center of a $60 million racketeering scheme orchestrated by former House Speaker Larry Householder (R).

New House Speaker Bob Cupp (R) scheduled a hearing for Thursday on H.B. 746, which would effectively overturn last summer’s passage of H.B. 6. The new bill would not only undo subsidies for Ohio’s two nuclear plants but also restore previous utility laws, including reviving clean energy standards.

Despite a unanimous vote to unseat Householder as House speaker days after his arrest in July, a repeal of H.B. 6 is far from a slam dunk, especially in the House, where Householder continues to serve as a member.

Even if the law is reversed, it’s unclear whether the Legislature will seek to replace it. Senate President Larry Obhof (R) told reporters he favors a “straight repeal” of the law, the Kent, Ohio-based radio station WKSU reported, while Gov. Mike DeWine (R) and Cupp have called on lawmakers to repeal and replace H.B. 6.

“Our plan is to work expeditiously through these complex issues,” Cupp said last week in a news release. “It’s important that we get this done and get it done right in a fair and open process.”

In the House, H.B. 746 will be heard first by a newly appointed Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight. Named to chair the 15-member committee is state Rep. James Hoops, a Republican who spent seven years at Columbus-based American Municipal Power Inc.

The committee includes nine Republicans and six Democrats. Five of the committee members voted for H.B. 6 last year, eight voted against it and two members are new to the Legislature.

Two upcoming dates are key to the debate over a repeal. One is Nov. 3 — Election Day — which will decide the makeup of the Ohio House.

An additional date is Jan. 1, when utilities begin to pass along $150 million in charges to customers to subsidize Energy Harbor Corp.’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants. An additional $20 million would be collected to fund solar projects.

Energy Harbor spokesman Jason Copsey said the company had no comment when asked what effect a repeal would have on the nuclear plants.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) has threatened to file a lawsuit to keep the nuclear subsidies from taking effect if the law isn’t repealed.

Democrats tried a procedural maneuver to force the House to consider a repeal bill last week, but the effort was blocked.

Meanwhile, the Senate last Tuesday held a brief hearing on an additional repeal bill, S.B. 346.

“Evidence laid out by the federal authorities of bribery, dark money and pay-to-play involved in the passage of House Bill 6 is overwhelming, and this legislation therefore cannot stand,” said state Sen. Sean O’Brien, a Democrat.

Some Republican legislators have pushed back on repeal efforts by claiming the law saves consumers money. Householder and other H.B. 6 supporters made similar statements when the bill was introduced in early 2019.

But clean energy advocates said the analysis is flawed because it ignores the savings from energy efficiency investments.

Dan Sawmiller, Ohio energy policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the main question before lawmakers this fall is broader than just energy; it’s public trust in government.

“Right now, we’ve got an issue with the honor and integrity of our Statehouse,” he said.

Sawmiller said the Legislature should proceed with a straight repeal of H.B. 6 and then start over with a fresh look at energy legislation. “We need to come forward and have a conversation on energy policy that brings Ohio into the 21st century,” he said.