Ohio energy bill becomes prize for special interests


The Plain Dealer of Cleveland: It’s hard to parse what Ohio legislative leaders were thinking when they exposed their “Ohio Clean Air” nuclear bailout bill for what it really is – a blatant giveaway to nuclear and coal interests.

A House committee recently discarded green-energy provisions from House Bill 6. That doubled down on the Ohio ratepayer energy subsidies that would go primarily to benefit the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants.

And lawmakers then added a new section that could obligate many Ohio ratepayers to subsidize two coal-fired plants, as well.

It’s even harder to figure out what House Speaker Larry Householder must have promised to get 10 Democrats to back the bill after too many Republicans balked at this special-interest giveaway, leaving him far short of the 50 votes he needed for House passage. (He got 53.)

For some, it was a local issue of jobs and taxes. Mentor-on-the-Lake’s John M. Rogers represents large portions of Lake County, where the Perry plant sits; FirstEnergy Solutions has said it will close the plant in 2021 without subsidies.

But also voting yes were Joe Miller of Amherst, whose legislative biography identifies him as “a passionate advocate for ... opportunities for green energy,” and freshman Cleveland legislator Terrence Upchurch, whose biography says he went to Columbus to advocate for the neighborhoods he represents, including Glenville.

Just before the House vote, HB 6 was amended by the rules committee, evidently to build in some specific inducements to hesitating lawmakers.

NEW PROVISIONS

Cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports the new provisions include one to guarantee “clean air” subsidies to six large solar installations whose construction already was approved by the state power siting board, and amendments capping nuclear subsidies if electricity prices rise and limiting the extent of property-tax devaluations for the two nuclear plants.

Yet none of that can mask what HB 6 has become: a platter of goodies for deep-pocketed special interests who spent liberally – not just in advocating for this legislation but also on Householder’s efforts to get his supporters elected or re-elected to the Ohio House, so they could choose him as speaker.

One of those pals is Ohio House Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nino Vitale, a Republican from Urbana in southwest Ohio, who showed his disdain for those who could be hurt by the bill’s elimination of requirements that utilities help customers save on energy use by saying in an email that “a little hunger in the belly or being a little cold on some really cold days” can be a good thing. Ouch.

Vitale also showed his contempt for alternative viewpoints during committee debate on HB 6 by ignoring the Democrats on the committee.

Householder – who named Vitale to the committee chairmanship – excused this misbehavior by suggesting that term limits have kept more seasoned lawmakers from office.

But the reality is that HB 6 is a priority bill for Householder and his team. Whatever it takes to get it across the finish line likely will be OK.

It’s now up to the Ohio Senate to guard the state’s interests, not just special interests.

At a minimum, as our editorial board previously urged, senators should make this bad bill better, by preserving the state’s green-energy and energy-efficiency mandates and by eliminating Ohio’s unreasonable wind-energy setback rules.

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