New Energy Bill Has Taken Effect but Opponents Aren't Giving Up Yet

Oct 24, 2019

This week brought a close to one chapter for Ohio's nuclear power plant bailout law, House Bill 6. But another could be starting. The group fighting against the bailout mounted a last minute push for signatures and their campaign could be heading to a new arena.

Rachael Belz went all out, setting up a petition signing station at Land Grant Brewing near downtown Columbus. This was part of a statewide effort to gather last minute signatures for a referendum that would put the nuclear power plant bailout law up for a vote on next year's ballot.

"In this final stretch, people have been really upset that they haven't found anybody with a real petition yet," Belz says. "Friends of mine, allies, people that would normally signed it weeks ago but they haven't been able to find it because of all these tactics."

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts was behind the signature effort. The donors of the group aren’t known, but its spokesman has said it’s the same consumer groups, business groups and renewable energy advocates who opposed House Bill 6, which created the bailout.

Belz says they had to start holding these signing events in private venues like this brewery to avoid their opponents, who hired people that allegedly harassed, followed, and blocked circulators from gathering signatures.

"I think the tactics from the opposition are incredibly slimey," she said.

Among their opposition is Ohioans for Energy Security and Generation Now, two dark money groups with connections to the power plants’ owner, FirstEnergy Solutions, and to House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford), a chief backer of the bailout.

The line between those two groups blurred during a march organized by Ohioans for Energy Security but featured workers for Generation Now.

Ohioans for Energy Security spokesman Carlo LoParo has tied the referendum effort to the natural gas industry, and wants lawmakers to continue changing energy law by banning foreign companies from investing in energy generation.

So there are two well-funded, competing sides. Those two sides collided again this week. That's because, the push from Belz and others against the nuclear power plant bailout fell short of the 265,774 valid signatures they needed to trigger a referendum.

So Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts took their case to federal court, asking for more time to collect signatures.

Here's how the argument breaks down. The Ohio Constitution grants 90 days for a group to try to referendum a law before it goes into effect. But Ohio law requires the Ohio Attorney General to approve petition language first. By the time the AG approved the group's second draft, 38 days had passed, giving the group only 52 days to collect signatures. That's why their lawyers said they had the right to more time. But the state's attorneys this has been the same process every referendum effort has faced for more than 80 years. 

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Sargus denied the request for more time. But he did send lingering questions on the issue to the Ohio Supreme Court, suggesting that the state's high court had jurisdiction over the argument.

So, as of now, the law created through HB6 is in effect. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) who represents the area where the Perry Nuclear plant is located,  says saving the nuclear power plants and making changes to Ohio's green energy policies are a better investment for the state.

"So it's good for the environment, it's good for jobs," Callender said. "It's good for the infrastructure that's there, it's good for the tax base, if you look at the school districts that are there where the two current nuclear power plants are, Davis-Besse and Perry, there'd be a devastating economic impact on those communities if those plants shut down."

But the book isn't closed on HB6 yet. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is reviewing its options to take the case to the Ohio Supreme Court.