Repeal HB6 sign

Just when you thought Ohio’s nuclear bailout scandal couldn’t get any wilder, the twists and turns of our state’s historic bribery saga now seem reminiscent of a spy thriller or conspiracy theory novel. It has been over nine months since the FBI announced its investigation into the infamous HB6 bailout, which since has only shed more light onto the rampant corruption going on behind the scenes in Ohio’s Statehouse. Since July 2020, some frustrating, tragic and fortuitous events have taken place, which hopefully hint at potential silver linings somewhere on the horizon when it comes to political justice and energy policy in the Buckeye State.

First the frustrating news -- despite the alleged corruption, Republicans in Ohio’s Statehouse have only recently started to repeal parts of HB6 in piecemeal fashion. While HB128 was able to clear the state legislature, it barely scratches the surface when addressing the issues HB6 unleashed. Granted, HB128 does repeal the worst parts of HB6, including the $1 billion bailout to Energy Harbor’s struggling nuclear plants and a “decoupling” provision that would have allowed energy companies to make more money off consumers. But even this is just because now those lobbyists are saying they don’t want the money (due to the pending investigations, of course.) In other words, the Republicans in charge of Ohio’s energy policy are stillfollowing the energy lobby’s orders. HB128 leaves in place HB6’s arbitrary restrictions on renewable energy, while still bailing out two failing coal plants, one of which is in Indiana.

Ironically, one legislator who voted in favor of HB128 was former Speaker of the House Larry Householder, who is at the epicenter of the entire HB6 scandal. While he is no longer speaker, he’s still serving as a representative from his district, despite several local and county elected officialsasking for him to be removed. However, for some reason current Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp still hasn't been able to bring Householder’s potential expulsion to a vote, continuously kicking the can down the road and saying the right thing for Householder to do “would be to resign.” Behind the scenes, some wonder if Cupp is really in control -- or if he even has the votes for expulsion within the Republican caucus -- since most of the legislators who Householder helped elect in 2018 still serve amongst his ranks.

On the tragic side of HB6 news, now Householder and former Ohio GOP Chairman Matt Borges are the only remaining defendants who have pleaded not guilty in the case (while two other lobbyists have pleaded guilty) because charges have been dropped against one of the individuals. Powerful longtime lobbyist Neil Clark was found deadin Florida on March 15, a result of an apparent suicide. Many in the Ohio Statehouse and Columbus backrooms knew Clark well -- he had been a lobbyist for big money interests since the 1980s, but after July 2020, his reputation was wrecked. According to sources, Clark went to the FBI earlier this year and gave them “a LOT” of information unofficially, but wanted immunity in exchange for going on the record. When the Feds said no, it allegedly sent him into a downward spiral. Now questions abound about what exactly Clark knew -- his absence from the upcoming trial (and threats of what could be revealed in his soon-to-be-published book) may leave many nervous on all sides.

Fortunately, it looks like there won’t be any disruptions to the FBI’s case without Clark, according to former U.S. Attorney Dave DeVillers, who extended his condolences to Clark’s family and said more indictments are likely coming soon. DeVillers left the Department of Justice earlier this year in what was a routine “cleaning of house” whenever a new presidential administration comes to power, but noted that the HB6 case is on track and the FBI still feels confident about their case. Meanwhile in the statehouse, the Republicans’ own backwards energy policies (stemming from HB6) have become completely contrary and are angering conservatives from all over the Ohio countryside-- enough so that they actually showed up in droves to recently testify against HB118 and SB52 at the Statehouse, bills that would potentially threaten solar projects on private properties and subject them to referendum votes. Needless to say, the representatives on these energy committees got a well-deserved earful from these nice folks.

Yes, like any silver lining, good news always seems like a distant hope. But perhaps now that their constituents are showing up to support clean energy -- and Householder’s power hangs in the balance -- Republicans in the statehouse will start to listen to people other than energy lobbyists. Ohioans can hope.