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Nuclear Bailout Law To Go Into Effect After Referendum Group Misses Deadline

Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action, collects signatures for the HB6 Referendum at Land Grant Brewery.
Andy Chow
Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action, collects signatures for the HB6 Referendum at Land Grant Brewery. This was one of several public events the referendum group held to collect signatures.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is still hoping a federal court will rule in favor of their request to extend the deadline in order for them to collect more signatures.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts says they did not have enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. The anti-nuclear bailout group did not turn in their collected signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State's office by the deadline set in order to make next year's ballot.

Gene Pierce, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts spokesperson, says their referendum drive has been met with heavy opposition. He says this includes ads, mailers, and canvassers who allegedly blocked and harassed signature collectors.

"The bottom line is that the smear campaign and the lies and deceit of the House Bill 6 supporters were successful in confusing Ohioans and discouraging them from signing our petition," says Pierce.

By not turning in the signatures for a referendum, HB6 will go into effect on Tuesday. The law creates $150 million in annual subsidies, for the state's two nuclear power plants, through increased rates on electric bills.

The law will also allow an additional charge of up to $1.50 on monthly electric bills to subsidize two coal plants, Kyger Creek (Gallia County) and Clifty Creek (Madison, IN).

The requirements on utility companies to invest in renewable energy will be rolled back while the mandates to achieve energy efficiency will be eliminated. House Bill 6 does grant $20 million in subsidies for existing solar energy projects.

"Well first of all we're very disappointed we couldn't put an immediate stay on the very bad bill from going into effect but we're hoping that the courts will recognize the constitutional rights that we have and that citizens have to sign a petition and put a bad bill on the ballot," says Pierce.

Supporters of HB6 say Ohioans will benefit from the bill going into effect. The sponsor, Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) emphasized the argument that it will result in a rate decrease on electric bills since it cuts back green energy standards.

Ohioans for Energy Security is a pro-nuclear bailout group that ran ads and sent out mailers trying to connect the referendum effort to Chinese government interests. The group collected its own signatures for an informal petition that calls for a ban on foreign companies from investing in energy generation.

"Our signatures represent a groundswell of public support for legislation that ensures the reliability and security of energy production in Ohio," says Spokesperson Carlo LoParo in a written statement. "Apparently, the HB 6 repeal campaign could not generate the needed support to meet the ballot qualifying threshold. Ballot issues can be emotional and highly charged. Both sides worked hard to engage Ohio voters." 

House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) played a critical role in moving the bill in the legislature. He notes that nuclear generation is carbon-free and provides about 15% of Ohio's energy.

Householder also says in a written statement that the renewable and energy efficiency mandates that were part of Ohio law for 10 years were not accomplishing the goals that were originally intended.

"To a great extent, utilities have diverted money from Ohio customers to renewable projects in other states, and expensive renewable energy credits paid by our businesses have gone to wind producers in Texas instead of making Ohio investments. Ohio needs to develop a better approach to achieve results in our state with respect to renewable energy," Householder writes. "We should be focused on energy policy that works for Ohio and Ohioans. That’s what HB6 begins to do."

Environmental groups in Ohio started to gain traction with the referendum effort by holding public events that allowed people to sign the petition in the final days before the deadline.

"Due to the unprecedented attack on our democratic right to engage in a referendum process, outright racist attacks, and a bad process that sets up citizens to fail, it is clear that corporations like FirstEnergy and their political allies care only about profits and little about the health, pocketbooks, and well-being of Ohioans. We have never seen such outrageous actions to thwart our constitutional rights to allow citizens to hold their government accountable," says Heather Taylor-Miesle, Ohio Environmental Council's executive director.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts has a lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio. The group argues that the requirement to fill out documents with petitioners' personal information made them vulnerable to the opposition's tactics. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts is also arguing for an extension based on the claim that the amount of time it took to certify their petition was too long.

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