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The FirstEnergy bailout bill benefits out-of-state executives and investors, not Ohioans

By Dick Munson

FirstEnergy and its supportive legislators have tied themselves in knots to sell their bailout bill (HB 6), a $1.4 billion money grab by a publicly traded company and its speculative, out-of-state investors that made a bad bet on a declining business.

They’ve been lying to Ohioans, claiming that HB 6 is a panacea that will clean the air, preserve local jobs and keep the lights on across Ohio. But it isn’t about any of that. And it’s barely about Ohio. Ohioans deserve to know the truth, and the legislature should reject this dishonest bill.

FirstEnergy claims it needs $150 to $190 million a year from Ohioans to keep two old nuclear plants online. And this would be the fifth time Ohioans will have paid for these plants. They first paid when the plants were built. They paid again in 1999 when the electricity market was restructured. They paid again when companies were allowed to add plants back into their supply plans in 2008. And finally, they’ve paid via the bailout ruling approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2016.

Despite all these bailouts, FirstEnergy is claiming poverty and needs the money to keep its business afloat, its employees employed and its vendors paid. And some legislators are buying it, saying that the bailout would flow to local creditors and vendors that supply the company with paper, furniture or maintenance services.

The FirstEnergy bailout bill benefits out-of-state executives and investors, not Ohioans
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But the biggest beneficiaries, by far, would be Wall Street, not Main Street. Investors gambled billions of dollars on FirstEnergy before and after its bailout campaign began. They want profit, and some of them are spending millions lobbying Ohio legislators on HB 6.

A dark money group named Generation Now, for instance, has spent more than $2.76 million on TV and radio ads to promote HB 6. Even before this ad buy, FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions invested $1.2 million in campaign contributions and $2.7 million on lobbying and public relations efforts. That’s a ton of money, but it pales in comparison to what’s at stake for these high-dollar gamblers.

Americans for Prosperity Ohio, a conservative think tank, calculated that the legislation would provide the FirstEnergy investors a return of more than 3,000 percent.
“Let that sink in for a second,” testified AFP’s Micah Derry, “and think about (what) the average person, or a small business owner might think when they hear that information. Surely one thought that would cross their mind would be that it’s a better deal than the government has ever offered them.”

Let’s be clear. There’s no crime in gambling on troubled companies. It happens a lot on Wall Street. But their risky bets shouldn’t cost Ohioans $150 million a year.

Even FirstEnergy admits these “long-lived plants are unprofitable and lose money,” even after the bankruptcy court allowed the company to shed some “burdensome contracts,” and said “we cannot force creditors or any other parties to take on ownership and continued operation of units that are expected to lose money in the future.” But that’s exactly what HB 6 would do – force Ohioans to take on ownership of a money loser.

The people who would pay for HB 6 all live right here – on Main Street in every town across the state. But their $150 million annual “investment” would exit Ohio so quickly we’ll be able to hear the “whoosh” sound.

FirstEnergy and its supporters may want us to think HB 6 is about clean air, jobs or the local economy. But it’s nothing more than a publicly-funded money grab. Ohioans shouldn’t buy the sales pitch, and legislators shouldn’t support this disastrous bill.

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