[LFC Comments: We unearthed this article written by the Columbus Free Press writer, Mr. Joe DeMare. It is an “oldie by goodie”.]
It was supposed to be just another round of pork in Columbus. The nuclear power industry, which was flush with success from winning billions in bailouts from state governments in New York and Illinois was again prepared to play Ohio’s government like a fiddle. Ohio had, in the past, ponied over $9 billion in subsidies for such flimsy reasons as “stranded costs” to keep the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants running. This time, though, it’s proven to be much more complicated. Fierce opposition from every part of the political spectrum meant a reduced payoff, and even though Governor DeWine signed House Bill 6 (HB6) into law on July 23, the money may never be delivered.
First Energy, and its clone, First Energy Solutions, had laid careful plans. After failing to get a bailout for their uncompetitive nuke plants, they hand picked twelve Republicans to run in the 2018 primaries and gave them enough money to defeat incumbent House members, as chronicled by Cleveland.com. Eleven of the twelve were elected. More than enough to push a bailout bill onto the House floor. First Energy, with the help of House Democrats, even maneuvered their man Larry Householder into the House Chairmanship, guaranteeing smooth passage through any parliamentary obstacles.
The bailout bill was House Bill Six, the incredibly inaccurately named “Clean Air Program.” The bill was initially sponsored by Jamie Callender, a Republican from Lake County, home of the Perry nuclear plant. He was one of First Energy’s twelve atomic disciples recruited in 2018. On April 12, 2019 he did his Master’s bidding by introducing a bill which was initially passed off as an effort to fight global warming.
The initial version of HB6 was a study in legislative deception. Probably written by First Energy lobbyists, it purported to be a law to promote clean energy. But, it was written in such a way that only the state’s two nuclear plants could actually access the $2.50 charge that would be added to every Ohioan’s electric bill.
The bill was assigned to the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommitee on Energy Generation, a body packed with pro-nuclear Republicans, notable among which were co-chair Stein, Freshman Haraz Ghanbari, and Jon Cross. Then came the hearings. The first hearing, on April 17, was a carefully scripted puppet show with the nuclear industry’s usual “experts” such as the Nuclear Energy Institute spouting skewed studies and statistics. They painted nuclear power as safe, clean, dependable, and inexpensive. All was going according to First Energy’s plan. Rumors were that the bill would be law by the end of the month.
Then, on April 23, came the first of many grueling hearings from those who opposed HB6. The very first witness was Tom Froehle from American Electric Power (AEP). Ignoring the stated five minute time limit, in a rambling, 45 minute long testimony, Froehle told the subcommittee that his huge corporation had “concerns” about the bill. Specifically, they were worried that it would threaten their planned 900 megawatt solar field. But, he said, AEP “looked forward to working with the committee” to create a “more balanced” bill. What this meant would become clear a few weeks later.
Then came a tremendous flood of testimony in opposition to HB6. Hundreds of opponents, from businesses large and small, to professional organizations, NGO’s, environmental groups and individuals not only countered the proponents’ earlier testimony point by point, they laid out many, many terrible problems with the bill.
By elminating Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards, HB6 would elminate over 100,000 jobs in the state’s burgeoning clean energy industries. Taking a giant leap backwards in terms of energy policy would drive investment away from the state. Billions of dollars that were poised to be invested in windfarms and solar projects would be lost to other states. The elimination of the efficiency programs, which had saved Ohio consumers over $5 billion since their inception, would be a huge blow to businesses and individuals alike.
The representatives listened, and then proceeded to make the bill even worse. As a result of backroom deals with AEP, two coal plants were added to the “clean air” bailouts. One of these plants, Clifty Creek, fouls the air for Ohio communities from Cincinnati to Dayton from just over the border in Indiana! It is perhaps the dirtiest coal plant in the United States, and Ohioans are now expected to pay a premium so that it can keep generating the pollution that is killing them indefinitely.
HB6 passed out of committee with little opposition and was passes by the House 53-43 on May 29. It would not have passed without the support of one-third of the House Democrats. Interestingly, one-third of the House Republicans voted against it, saying that it distorted the “free market” by subsidizing one energy source over another.
So, on to the Senate, where it was again referred to Committee, the Energy and Public Utilities Committee. By this time, all pretense that this was anything but a bailout bill had been dropped. Proponents hardly mentioned clean air or global warming. Opponents made the same arguments before the Senate as they had in the House. HB6 would actually increase the amount paid for electricity because of the lost efficiency savings. The bill would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Other countries and states were actually increasing their renewable energy goals, leading to lower cost, more dependable electricity supplies. All the evils of coal power were now added on to HB6, and Senators stonily listened to moving testimony of children dying from asthma triggered by coal pollution. As in the House, opponents outnumbered proponents three to one.
By now, word of how horrible HB6 was had spread across the state. Editorial boards of almost all the major newspapers condemned it. Hundreds of Ohioans joined protests in half a dozen cities. The opponents, which included such unlikely bedfellows as the Ohio Green Party, Libertarian groups, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the American Petroleum Institute and Sierra Club only convinced the Senators to put a little lipstick on the HB6 pig.
The version which finally came out of committee restored two-thirds of the renewable energy portfolio funds until 2026. After that, they were eliminated. The efficiency program was still immediately eliminated. In the full Senate, the bailout charges were delayed by a year so that Republicans wouldn’t have to face the political fallout of raising electric rates in the 2020 election year. There were some carve outs for specific solar projects, but the bulk of the now 85 cent fee would go to the nuclear and coal plants.
The bill passed the Senate 19-12 on July 17. After some drama, the revised bill again passed the House 51-38 on July 23. DeWine signed it that day, while the ink was still wet.
Despite over $9 million spent promoting HB6 in a constant advertising barrage, Ohioans over 75% of Ohioans still oppose it. First Energy Solutions spent over $50 million lobbying the Ohio legislature. This bill is a clear case of Fascism, corporations colluding with the government with no regards to Democracy or the will of the people. (Emphasis by LFC)
Now that it’s passed, other corporations are wading into the fray. Funded mainly by corporations in the fracking and natural gas industry, such as Clean Energy Future, LLC out of Boston, a movement has begun to repeal HB6. Ohio law states that a bill which has been signed into law can be negated by a referendum. An LLC, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, has been formed. Their stated goal is complete negation of HB6. They are using professional petitioners to gather the 1,000 signatures to start the referendum process. If they are successful, they then have 90 days from the signing of the bill to collect 265,800 signatures to place the referendum on the fall ballot. The campaign is being run by Battleground Strategies, LLC, a PR firm out of Columbus.
So, if the referendum succeeds, we will be left with the same energy policy that was in place before HB6 was introduced. Ohio had a target of 12.5% renewables by 2027 with .5% from renewables. This is a guaranteed death sentence for civilization. Even as crops fail and poles melt, even as drought and famine sweep across the globe exactly as computer models predicted twenty years ago, the energy companies have us running in place as hard as we can. Rather than just a referendum to overturn HB6, we need a state-wide initiative to create a truly sustainable energy policy, one which eliminates carbon as an energy source and instead turns us into a society run by 100% renewable energy. But for now, clean energy advocates seem to be saying, first repeal HB6, then we’ll worry about saving the future.