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HB6 delivered blow to Valley; repeal it now

We, like all Ohioans, are disgusted with allegations of high-stakes bribery in exchange for political favors in the Ohio Statehouse.

The allegations made public Tuesday are focused on Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and his fight for passage of a nuclear bailout bill that adds a surcharge to every Ohio electric bill.

Householder and four others were arrested Tuesday on federal charges linking them to a $60 million bribery scheme. U.S. Attorney David DeVillers called it “likely the largest bribery scheme ever perpetrated against the state of Ohio.”

Indeed, these allegations should make Buckeye State residents sick to their stomachs. If true, they mean higher utility bills throughout the state will be due to bought-and-paid-for legislation.

Investigators say Generation Now, a group controlled by Householder, received the $60 million from a company that has not been identified.

In exchange, Householder, a Republican, and his cronies allegedly worked to enact the bailout bill with most proceeds, about $150 million per year through 2026, going to two nuclear power plants in Lake County and near Toledo. About $20 million per year goes to the solar power industry.

But there is cause for local residents to be even more disgusted than most other Ohioans.

The July 2019 passage of HB 6 created a conduit for funding to FirstEnergy Solutions to pay for operations at its two bankrupt nuclear power plants, but provided no assistance to the new and planned local gas-fired power plants. In essence, it allowed government to choose winners and losers by subsidizing inefficiency.

The bill was so unfair, in fact, that it became the impetus for a developer to pull the plug on plans to build a third natural gas-fired power plant in Trumbull County — even after nearly $1 million already had been spent on development and permitting of Lordstown-3, according to Bill Siderewicz, who intricately was involved in this and plans that brought the other two plants to Lordstown. Siderewicz is president of Clean Energy Future and a minority investor in the Lordstown Energy Center.

The financial losses from the pullout of the third local energy plant, Siderewicz said, included 1,100 new local union construction jobs; 2.6 million manhours over the next 34 months to build the plant; $150 million in water purchases from Youngstown; $300 million in local property and income taxes; and $29 billion in economic benefit to the Mahoning Valley over the next 50 years.

These losses represent an enormous blow to all of us who live and work in the Valley, but especially to skilled trades workers who would have been called on to build the third plant, for suppliers, for potential workers, for nearby cities that would have seen millions of dollars in revenue gains through taxation and the sale of water, and for local school districts that would have seen significant revenue — not to mention everyone who benefits from the trickle-down effects to the economy.

One day after Householder’s arrest last week, Democratic legislators from the Mahoning Valley lined up to call for the repeal of HB 6. They are right to do that.

Siderewicz, understandably angry by the turn of events in Ohio, too, called for the bill’s repeal.

“Everyone should be in Columbus forcing (Gov. Mike) DeWine and (the) Legislature to immediately suspend HB 6 pending this case,” Siderewicz wrote in an email to this newspaper’s business writer Ron Selak on Tuesday.

And if the accusations prove true, Siderewicz wrote, “Repeal HB 6 in total!! … In a C-19 (COVID-19) world, why should Ohioans pay an extra $550 mm (million) per year to support fraud!! That is insane!!” Siderewicz wrote.

We agree.

During the debate leading up to the bill’s passage, we used this space to argue against it, saying it was wrong to play favorites by assessing fees on the electric bills of all Ohioans’ to bail out one financially troubled energy producer.

Indeed, the bill must be repealed immediately.

It already is known that Householder pushed hard for the bill’s passage. If charges he was bribed to do so are accurate, Ohio lawmakers — and law enforcement authorities — need to investigate whether some of the $60 million was spent to buy the votes of others in the General Assembly.

If so, they, too, should be arrested. No one involved in the scheme should be permitted to escape justice.

While those involved must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, if they are convicted, they must be receive the most severe punishment allowable with no opportunity at plea negotiations.

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