Bailout of FirstEnergy will jolt Ohioans, environment


The Ohio Senate’s passage Wednesday night of one of this state’s most odious anti-consumer bills in history toward almost certain passage in the state House deals a mean blow to Ohioans in their pocketbooks and sets the Buckeye State on a regressive path toward environmental irresponsibility.

As expected, House Bill 6, the misnamed Ohio Clean Air Act, sailed to easy passage in the upper chamber of the Ohio General Assembly on a vote of 19-12 with Republicans in the vast majority. That passage followed a similar 53-43 largely party-line vote in the House six weeks ago.

The absence of four assured “yes” votes in the state House to approve several changes in the Senate version of the bill prevented it from final passage this week. But House Speaker Larry Householder is confident those absentee legislators will show up for a final vote on HB 6 on or before Aug. 1.

“The only thing we’re lacking right now is we’re missing about four people in their chairs,” the cocky Householder told Cleveland.com.

Before the final vote, the Senate’s tinkering made the bad legislation even worse. It padded the bill with a total of $450 million in subsidies to the Ohio coal industry, hardly a poster child for clean-energy efficiency. In addition, it moves the state away from meeting rigid long-term energy efficiency mandates, a priority for quite a while now among the regulation-despising GOP majority.

In short, Ohio will take one giant step backward in environmental and consumer protection with the all-but-certain enactment of HB 6.

ORIGINS OF REPULSIVE BILL

The seedy legislation was born of financial turbulence at FirstEnergy Solutions, the power plant subsidiary of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the spring of 2018. FES then tried but failed to persuade the federal government to prop up its ailing nuclear and coal operations.

As a last resort, it then came begging to the Ohio Legislature with an ultimatum: Help bail us out or the state’s two FES nuclear power plants at Perry and Davis-Besse would be shuttered, leaving 1,400 workers out in the cold.

To our dismay, as well as that of such distinguished environmental groups as The Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio’s legislative majority gobbled FES’s bait hook, line and sinker.

As a result, it looks as if Ohio consumers will be straddled with an additional monthly surcharge on their electric bills ranging from $1 for individuals to more than $2,400 for large industrial plants. According to language in HB 6, 88.25 percent of that surcharge will be used to help prop up Perry and Davis-Besse for a total of $150 million yearly. A piddling 11.75 percent of it will go toward renewable-energy development.

Many rightly fear that the significant added expenses to large Ohio industries will cost far more jobs to the state’s economy than the 1,400 the bill purports to protect. Operators of the proposed $900 million Trumbull Energy Center in Lordstown have said passage could deal a blow to the critical project’s development.

Additionally, the surcharge will unfairly be applied to all electric consumers in Ohio, regardless of whether they purchase electricity from FirstEnergy.

On the environmental front, the legislation in effect guts this state’s clean-energy and renewable energy mandates by drastically reducing or, in some cases, eliminating the monthly surcharges for those initiatives. According to the Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, those initiatives have resulted in $5.1 billion in energy savings for Ohioans from 2009 to 2017.

Despite such prospects for long-term gloom, passage of HB 6 this week did provide a few positives.

To our appreciation, state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-33rd of Salem, refused to listen to the propaganda of his party’s leaders or the massive statewide TV advertising hoax about HB6. He joined a small group of Republican rebel senators who voted against this legislative affront to environmental progress. Other members of the Mahoning Valley Statehouse delegation, with the exception of state Rep. Don Manning, R-59th of New Middletown, also wisely rejected the measure.

In addition, one other last-minute change in the Senate version of the bill, reportedly at the request of Gov. Mike De-Wine, delays implementation of the bailout surcharge until 2021. That postponement will give opponents more than a full year to reassess its negative impact and perhaps consider restoration of some of the state’s long-term energy-efficiency goals.

If those clean-energy mandates remain destroyed, Ohio will bear the unfortunate reputation as an outcast in the worldwide effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to help stave off the dire consequences of global warming. That’s a reputation Ohio could live without.

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