Ohio GOP at odds over future of House Bill 6

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — It has been just one year since the corruption trial began against former Speaker of the Ohio House Larry Householder, which ultimately landed him in prison for 20 years.

Householder was convicted on federal racketeering charges for accepting a $60 million bribe to pass House Bill 6, which was signed into law in 2019. Since then, parts of the legislation directly related to the scandal have been repealed, but other portions that are costing energy ratepayers still stand.

“At the end of the day, this corrupt legislation means that we don’t have money we could be spending on other things,” Executive Director of Common Cause Ohio Catherine Turcer said.

HB6, in part, gave two Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) coal plants a consistent stream of revenue, from Ohioans.

“To the tune of $153,000 per day,” Turcer said.

Even before HB6, OVEC was receiving subsidies granted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), to make up for loss of revenues related to the two coal plants.

The law, which is still on the books, guarantees a constant stream of revenue and caps the amount of money electric companies can charge ratepayers for the subsidies.

There are two coal plants benefiting from the money, one in Ohio and one in Indiana. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel tracks the amount Ohioans have paid since January 2020; it is more than $225 million to date. The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association estimates that amount will grow to $850 million by 2030 if the law is not repealed.

But the energy scandal has divided members of the former speaker’s party; some think the law should stand, and others are calling for a repeal.

“I think that anything that was connected to House Bill 6 needs to be completely removed,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (R-Ohio) said. “The people who are accountable for it are being held accountable, some are already being convicted. We would all be better off if we just stripped everything.”

Husted said while the provisions related to First Energy, one of the largest players in the scandal, have been repealed, he thinks the state needs to move on without it. Texts linked Husted to the scandal and he will be deposed in a civil suit related to it, but he has not been indicted in the scheme.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the Ohio House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said he does not see it that way.

“Every power plant we can have in Ohio, the better off we, as Ohioans, are going to be so we can continue to grow our economy,” Stephens said.

There is a democratic bill with bi-partisan support in the House to repeal those remaining portions of HB6 and refund money to ratepayers. The bill has not had a single committee hearing since being introduced nearly a year ago.

Stephens was not in the legislature at the time House Bill 6 passed, but as speaker, he can determine which bills get a House floor vote. And he said he thinks supporting the plants helps the state. He said we cannot rely on wind and solar energy to support the infrastructure across Ohio.

“It’s [OVEC coal plant] one of the largest power-producing power plants in the state of Ohio and it’s good for Ohio,” he said. “We need to make sure we’ve got that electric supply here in Ohio, not only for economic development but for when you have that bad weather stretch. Those are the important things to think about and we can do it while being fair.”

Stephens said although he does not support the repeal of OVEC portions of HB6, he is open to exploring other sources of reliable energy to help support the state.

“OVEC is in a community that loves that plant being there because of the tax revenue it gives,” Stephens said. “It helps the schools; it helps the local county government and is a huge economic boost for the jobs. You’re not putting a power plant in downtown Columbus; you’re usually putting it in a more rural area that needs the economic development.”

“It really is the only argument you can make,” Turcer said. “I think we also need to point out that one of these coal plants is actually in Indiana.”

Husted said the state needs to start fresh from the energy scandal and can move forward effectively without the law.

“We’ve got to dump all that in the past, we’ve got to focus on the future and the General Assembly would serve us all best if they would [repeal the remaining portions of HB6],” Husted said. “We need a clean start at this. We need more electricity, we need more gas, we need more energy if we are going to make things in Ohio again.”

On Thursday morning, the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee is having a first-of-its-kind joint hearing with members from the Pennsylvania Legislature to discuss energy infrastructure. Between both Ohio and Pennsylvania, the states generate more than 40% of power used out of the 13 states in the region.

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