by Andrew Welsh-Higgins
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A nuclear plant bailout law should be repealed immediately, Democratic members of the Ohio House announced Wednesday as a bribery scandal involving one of the state’s most powerful lawmakers unfolded over the law’s passage.
The announcement came a day after Larry Householder, the Republican speaker of the Ohio House, and four associates were arrested in a $60 million federal bribery case connected to the taxpayer-funded bailout.
U.S. Attorney David DeVillers described the ploy as likely the largest bribery and money-laundering scheme that had “ever been perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio.”
Householder was one of the driving forces behind the nuclear plants’ financial rescue. Previous attempts to bail out the nuclear plants had stalled in the Legislature before Householder became speaker. Months after taking over, he rolled out a new plan to subsidize the plants and eliminate renewable energy incentives.
“When corruption is revealed, it is important we act quickly to fix what has been broken,” Rep. Michael Skindell, a suburban Cleveland Democrat, said Wednesday. Senate Democrat Cecil Thomas of Cincinnati also called for its repeal.
The 2019 law added a new fee to every electricity bill in the state and directed over $150 million a year through 2026 to the plants near Cleveland and Toledo. The bill faced fierce opposition from both clean energy groups and manufacturers.
Repealing the law quickly won’t be easy, and is complicated by support the law received in the House, both from Householder-backed Republicans and Democrats persuaded to support the measure.
Meanwhile, even before the scandal erupted, the Householder-led House was on summer recess, and the speaker had declined to bring lawmakers back before fall. The Senate has been conducting sessions.
Republican officials from Gov. Mike DeWine on down have called on Householder to resign, including at least five GOP House lawmakers as of Wednesday afternoon. The speaker, who could continue to hold office unless he were convicted, has remained silent regarding those demands.
A vote by two-thirds of the House could result in the expulsion of a member for disorderly conduct under the Ohio Constitution, Republican Attorney General Dave Yost, who also called on Householder to resign, tweeted Wednesday morning. In addition, the Constitution allows the governor to call the General Assembly together “on extraordinary occasions,” Yost said, noting: “This is that.”
Repealing the energy bailout would also need support from DeWine, who signed the original bill. No one from the governor’s office has been questioned to date in the investigation, DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said. He said the governor wasn’t commenting on a repeal ahead of a regularly scheduled afternoon news conference.
The investigation is the second major case brought against a utility within the past few days.
Last week, federal prosecutors in Illinois said electric utility ComEd had agreed to pay $200 million to resolve a criminal investigation into a long-running bribery scheme that also implicated longtime state House Speaker Michael Madigan.
While Madigan denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged, prosecutors said the company admitted that from 2011 to 2019 it arranged for jobs and vendor subcontracts “for various associates of a high-level elected official for the state of Illinois.”
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Andrew Welsh-Higgins is a reporter for The Associated Press. AP writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.
About the Headline Photo: Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder leaves the federal courthouse after an initial hearing following charges against him and four others alleging a $60 million bribery scheme Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)