COLUMBUS — New Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp has taken what he says is the first step to repeal House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law that’s at the center of an ongoing federal corruption investigation.
Cupp, a Lima Republican, on Monday announced the creation of a new “select committee” on Energy Policy and Oversight. He then referred to it for review three HB6-related bills, including House Bill 746, a Republican-backed proposal that would repeal the bill and re-instate previous law.
But Cupp, speaking to reporters Monday morning, provided few additional details on the committee, including who its members will be or when it will begin reviewing legislation. He also said he couldn’t say when the repeal might take effect if one passed.
“We are sorting through our members here,” Cupp said. “We have some in mind, but we certainly would want to confirm with them before we surprise them.”
He said, however, the new committee will begin holding hearings “rather quickly.”
The issue is time-sensitive. Starting on Jan. 1, the law will provide more than $1 billion to the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear plants, or $150 million annually, via new fees tacked onto Ohioans’ electricity bills. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a Republican, has threatened to sue to prevent the subsidies from going into effect.
“We want to move on it, and we want to get going on it. So this is the first step in the process,” Cupp said.
House Democrats, who are in the deep minority, want to move quickly, and have begun organizing what’s called a discharge petition, a procedural move that would force the bill to the floor for a vote on Tuesday. The two lead sponsors of a Democratic repeal bill issued a Monday statement blasting Cupp for not moving more quickly, and accused the Speaker’s Office throwing up procedural road blocks to their discharge petition.
“It is obvious now that the Republicans do not actually want to repeal House Bill 6,” said State Reps. Mike Skindell of Lakewood and Michael O’Brien, of Warren.
“Our constituents are calling us every day, emailing us every day, to say you’ve got to get rid of this bill and start over,” House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes, of Akron, said in an interview.
After being off for most of the summer, the House and Senate are scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. Legislative leaders have said several bills are under consideration, including the HB6 repeal bills.
State legislators are facing increasing pressure to act on HB6 as prominent Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine and Senate President Larry Obhof, have called for it to be swiftly repealed. But there has been debate on exactly how to act.
Some former supporters have distanced themselves from the bill since the emergence of the corruption probe, which resulted in the arrest of then-House Speaker Larry Householder.
But some legislators have defended the bill, saying its policies — intended to prop up the nuclear plants, which employ thousands of workers — are worth keeping despite the taint of the corruption investigation. Officials with FirstEnergy Solutions, which is now Energy Harbor, have said the plants were financially troubled and threatened to close them without the bailout.
There are also other policies in the bill. It also provided funding for a handful of solar plants and two coal plants, one in Ohio and one in Indiana, owned by a consortium of utility companies. It offset new the nuclear fees by eliminating energy-efficiency programs and also gutted a requirement that utilities provide a certain percentage of their electricity through renewable energy sources.
One consideration is when any repeal legislation would take effect. State Rep. Laura Lanese, a Grove City Republican who is co-sponsoring HB746, said she isn’t sure how the process will play out. The bill has 22 Republican co-sponsors.
Federal prosecutors have said FirstEnergy, the former owner of the nuclear plants, and its affiliates funneled more than $60 million in bribes to a political organization controlled by Householder to help Householder become speaker in January 2019 and then secure the bill’s passage.
Householder and an aide, Jeff Longstreth, and three lobbyists, Matt Borges, Neil Clark and Juan Cespedes, were indicted last month, accused of being part of the scheme. FirstEnergy has denied wrongdoing, and its executives have not been charged. Following Householder’s arrest, he was ousted from his leadership position but remains in the Ohio House.