CINCINNATI – If state lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine won't repeal Ohio's $1.3 billion nuclear bailout, leaders in Cincinnati and Columbus say they'll take matters into their own hands.
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging the fee, set to hit Ohioans' electric bills on Jan. 1, is an "unconstitutional tax" because it's based on a fraud.
Former Ohio Speaker Larry Householder is accused of accepting nearly $61 million in bribes from "Company A," believed to be FirstEnergy Corp., and other businesses to win control of the Ohio House of Representatives, pass the $1.3 billion nuclear bailout and defend it.
In July, Householder and four others were arrested and later indicted for racketeering. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.
The federal investigation threw the Ohio Legislature into turmoil. Some lawmakers – mostly those who opposed the bailout in 2019 – pushed to repeal the legislation. Others defended the law, saying it saved Ohio's nuclear energy and jobs despite the now-tainted process.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday names FirstEnergy Corp.; Ohio Public Utilities Commission chairman Sam Randazzo and state Treasurer Robert Sprague. It seeks a court injunction to block the new fee.
"The federal prosecutor called this the largest money laundering bribery scheme perpetrated on the state of Ohio," Cranley said. "There were bribes. They did give them to bad actors, and the only way they get paid is if Ohioans pay this tax. We need a restraining order from courts to stop it from being imposed."
Ohio residents' electric bills would see small bump
Without legal or legislative action, an 85-cent fee will be added to Ohioans' monthly residential electric bills to subsidize two nuclear plants in northern Ohio owned by Energy Harbor, which was previously called FirstEnergy Solutions. A few solar companies would also receive money.
The change is part of House Bill 6, a law passed last year to bail out the nuclear plants. The law also guaranteed that utilities can continue to charge customers a fee for two coal plants operated by Ohio Valley Electric Corporation until 2030. The plants are located in Gallipolis and Madison, Indiana.
Cranley has always been critical of House Bill 6. He said the bailout of nuclear and coal plants – including one not even in Ohio and that's known to pollute the Cincinnati region – didn't add up.
When the fraud was revealed, Cranley said he thought the governor or the GOP-controlled Legislature would repeal it. But nothing has happened.
DeWine says he supports starting over. However, legislators missed a deadline before the election to block the fees this January. Now, they will need even more votes to delay or stop the charges before the end of the year.
So Cranley and Klein, both Democrats, decided to do something instead.
"We want the people of the state of Ohio to keep their money," said Klein.
Timing of the fee hurts as well, lawsuit alleges
Because of the novel coronavirus and its ensuing economic crisis, nearly 100,000 ratepayers in the greater Columbus area and tens of thousands of ratepayers in Cincinnati have fallen behind on their utility bills. Utility companies are poised to resume service disconnections.
"Adding these new fees to Ohioans’ utility bills is unfair, unjust, unethical, and irresponsible, especially given that the country is in the midst of a pandemic, and, even more than that, winter is coming," according to the lawsuit.
In September, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a lawsuit in Franklin County to block those fees from going to Energy Harbor, which owns the plants. But a judge denied Yost's initial request for an injunction.
Yost sought to block the money from being distributed to the nuclear plants. The new lawsuit from Columbus and Cincinnati seeks to block the fee altogether.
Contributing: Mark Ferenchik. The Columbus Dispatch
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This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Ohio House Bill 6: Cincinnati mayor sues as electric bill fee looms