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Fate of tainted nuclear bailout left unclear at year’s end

By FARNOUSH AMIRI December 22, 2020

FILE – This April 4, 2017 file photo shows the then-FirstEnergy Corp.’s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. The fate of the legislation that aimed to bailout Ohio’s two nuclear plants remains unclear as the Legislature meets for a final session Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, to discuss any potential bill that would remedy, delay or repeal portions of the legislation. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

The fate of the tainted legislation looming over the Ohio Statehouse since July remains unknown as the Legislature convenes Tuesday for a final day of sessions.

For months, Lawmakers have been unable to find common ground on how to address the $1 billion nuclear bailout law at the center of a $60 million bribery probe. 

The inaction by the House and Senate forced the hand of Franklin County Judge Chris Brown, who granted a preliminary injunction Monday that blocked the subsidies from the law that were set to be added to every electric bill in the state starting Jan. 1.

“Frankly, the work of the 133rd General Assembly is quickly coming to an end,” the judge said during a hearing Monday. “As of today, as of this moment, there has been no movement of any legislation, and the court feels that putting the ball in the General Assembly’s court would be an abdication of my responsibility to decide these issues.”

Attorney General Dave Yost filed the state’s lawsuit in September against Energy Harbor, a former subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., the state’s largest utility. 

“Today’s ruling proves that the powerful can be held accountable and that corruption will be rooted out,” Yost, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Everybody who pays an electric bill whether for their own home or a job-sustaining manufacturer is the winner today. Your pocket will not be picked.”

The FBI, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Ohio Secretary of State are investigating FirstEnergy’s role in the alleged bribery scheme. Federal prosecutors allege then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder used the money to win the speakership, elect political allies and pass the bailout bill. Householder and four others were arrested in July and subsequently indicted on racketeering charges.

The preliminary injunction came as lawmakers enter a final day of committee hearings and sessions before adjourning for the holidays. 

But both Democrats and Republicans believe there is not enough support for any bill to pass Tuesday that would remedy, delay or repeal portions of the legislation.

The infighting between GOP members and defiance from Democrats has been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has left a handful of lawmakers sick or in the hospital in the last month. 

bill introduced by GOP Rep. Jim Hoops that would halt the collection of at least $170 million in nuclear and solar subsidies for one year will be brought to the House floor Tuesday. But the proposal has been criticized by members of both parties for not going far enough to remedy the law federal investigators say was passed through the largest bribery scheme in state history.

“House Bill 798 is actually worse than House Bill 6 because voting for it would mean the corruption is staring you straight in the face,” Rep. David Leland, a ranking Democrat, said Tuesday. “At least the first time, people can say, ‘Well, I didn’t know about the criminal conduct. I didn’t know about this when I voted for it.’ But they know all about that now.”

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Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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