O’Brien to Introduce Legislation Repealing First Energy Bailout at Center of Bribery Scandal

WARREN, Ohio – State Sen. Sean O’Brien will be introducing legislation Thursday to repeal House Bill 6 following the arrest of House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates Tuesday.

The bill, passed last year, is at the center of the criminal complaint filed by the FBI against Householder, who is pictured above after his arraignment Tuesday in Columbus. Householder is accused of controlling Generation Now, a group that received $60 million from an unidentified company – believed to be FirstEnergy Corp. – to pass a ratepayer-funded $1 billion bailout of two nuclear power plants in Ohio, as well as block attempts to overturn the bill. 

“It erodes public confidence. It casts a shadow on the thousands of elected public officials going to work to make lives better for every Ohioan” said O’Brien, D-Bazetta during a Wednesday morning press conference downtown. “It’s really not a Democratic or Republican issue. It’s a right and wrong issue.”

He also argued for campaign finance reform in Ohio.

“The bigger picture is that the indictment against Speaker Householder is an indictment against campaign finance in Ohio,” O’Brien said. “It’s a culture of pay to play and it’s not until we have real reform that we get away from these kinds of systems. Right now, dark money and these kinds of activities are legal and have no oversight.”

Joining O’Brien were state Reps. Gil Blair, D-63 Weathersfield, and Michael O’Brien, D-64 Warren. Of the local representation in Columbus, only former state Rep. Don Manning, R-59 New Middletown, voted in favor of H.B. 6. Manning died in March of an apparent heart attack.

Michael O’Brien was a co-chairman of the Ohio House’s energy generation committee, which held five days of testimony over H.B. 6 and saw more than 250 witnesses.

“Of those witnesses, two-thirds were in opposition. I categorized H.B. 6 as nothing more than a bailout to two failing nuclear power plants,” he said. “I went into detail in my questions of FirstEnergy and their over-reliance on consumers.”

Not only were the funds sent to Householder and his associates used to support H.B. 6, but also to work against ballot initiatives that would repeal the bill.

“We were opposed to it then and now I’m a joint sponsor in the House to repeal H.B. 6 and make it that H.B. 6 never existed, that the bailout of the two nuclear power plants that costs every customer 85 cents a month for the next seven years never existed,” Michael O’Brien said.

As of this morning, he added, the legislation in the House to repeal the bill has bipartisan support.

Blair, who was not yet in office during the first vote on H.B. 6 but voted no on the second reading, said the impact of the bill reached to the Mahoning Valley by hurting power plants powered by natural gas. Clean Energy Future, which operates Lordstown Energy Center, is currently in the process of developing a second plant at the site and has canceled plans for a third, which CEO Bill Siderewicz attributed to the bill’s passage.

“When this bill came up, it was vehemently opposed by the natural gas industry. We have power plant in Lordstown and others slated for construction,” Blair said. “When H.B. 6 passed, that wasn’t the end of it. Shortly after, Joint Resolution 2 was offered to disrupt funding by any foreign banks for power plants, which almost all of them have. That resolution was introduced and disrupted power plants across Ohio.”

Across Ohio public officials are speaking out today about the $60 million bribery scandal and H.B. 6.

“When corruption is revealed, it is important we act quickly to fix what has been broken,” Rep. Michael Skindell, a suburban Cleveland Democrat, said Wednesday. Senate Democrat Cecil Thomas of Cincinnati also called for its repeal.

The 2019 law added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo. The bill faced fierce opposition from both clean energy groups and manufacturers.

Repealing the law quickly won’t be easy, and is complicated by support the law received in the House, both from Householder-backed Republicans and Democrats persuaded to support the measure.

Republican officials from Gov. Mike DeWine on down have called on Householder to resign, but the speaker has remained silent regarding those demands. Householder could continue to hold office unless he were convicted.

A vote by two-thirds of the House could result in the expulsion of a member for disorderly conduct under the Ohio Constitution, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost, who also called on Householder to resign, tweeted Wednesday morning.

Repealing the energy bailout would also need support from DeWine, who signed the original bill. No one from the governor’s office has been questioned to date in the investigation, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. He said the governor wasn’t commenting on a repeal ahead of a regularly scheduled afternoon news conference.

The investigation is the second major case brought against a utility within the past few days.

Last week, federal prosecutors in Illinois said electric utility ComEd had agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that also implicated longtime state House Speaker Michael Madigan.

While Madigan denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged, prosecutors said the company admitted that from 2011 to 2019 it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts “for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois.”

Today’s press conference in Warren can be watched in the video above or on our Facebook page.

The Associated Press contributed to this developing story. Check back to BusinessJournalDaily.com for updates.

Related Coverage

Lordstown Energy Developer Demands Repeal of Nuclear Bailout

Ohio Speaker’s Arrest in $60M Bribery Probe Muddies 2020 Election

DeWine, Party Leaders Call for Householder’s Resignation

Lawmakers, Interest Groups Weigh in on Householder Arrest

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.