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Deceit and Dark Money -Ohio’s nuclear subsidy saga 

Dark money dominated Ohio’s nuclear subsidy saga ENERGY NEWS NETWORK, Kathiann M. KowalskiMarch 5, 2020  

FirstEnergy Solutions paid nearly $2 million to at least one group, but most other data remains hidden.

After-the-fact filings show that FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiary paid nearly $2 million to Generation Now, one of the special interest groups that orchestrated ads, political donations and other efforts behind Ohio’s nuclear and coal bailout.

But legal loopholes make it harder to find out the total spent and who else was behind xenophobic advertising, dueling voter petitions, alleged intimidation and other claims of foul play. And none of those actions fully disclosed who was behind them.

The scant public filings that are available show additional connections to FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor), as well as the law firm of an outspoken legislator who has long fought the state’s clean energy standard, and others with high-level political influence.

House Bill 6 gutted Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards while putting ratepayers on the hook for nearly $1 billion in subsidies for nuclear power plants, plus an additional amount for aging coal plants. Multiple groups spent heavily to promote HB 6 and prevent a referendum on the law following its passage.

In some cases, nonprofit and for-profit organizations funded each other or shared the same spokesperson. Groups active in the HB 6 campaign also had links to some of the same lobbyists and consultants who acted for companies that stood to benefit from HB 6, or unions with workers at their plants. But only limited amounts of funding could be traced.

ON ORIGINAL – INTRIGUING INTERACTIVE DIAGRAM HERE _ shows interrelationships of individuals and groups

As FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy case wrapped up in February and the company began doing business as Energy Harbor, a filing posted to the company’s investor relations page shows a wire payment of $1,859,457 from FirstEnergy Solutions to Generation Now, Inc. on July 5, 2019.

“FirstEnergy Solutions’ funding of Generation Now proves that House Bill 6 was always primarily a bailout for the bankrupt utility and its wealthy investors,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute, who first spotted the Energy Harbor filing.

“Powerful corporations, and utilities in particular, often fund groups to do their dirty work in an attempt to avoid accountability,” Anderson said. “In the case of Generation Now, that dirty work included millions of dollars in misleading ads and hiring petition blockers to prevent Ohioans from having an opportunity to overturn House Bill 6 when they vote in November.”

The nearly $2 million in documented spending by FirstEnergy Solutions is just part of the total spent from 2018 through now. That figure could be as high as $15 million, according to Gene Pierce, who acted as spokesperson for the group leading the referendum effort, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts.

The rise of so-called “dark money” groups, which don’t have to disclose their donors, follows a 2010 Supreme Court case, Citizens United, that held corporations have a constitutional right to unlimited spending for political matters, provided they aren’t directly coordinated with candidates.

“We’re having a much more difficult time” tracking political spending after Citizens United, said Catherine Turcer, executive director at Common Cause Ohio. “We know there’s all these political dollars swirling around about HB 6. And yet we can only get a picture of the contributions that are tied directly to the public officials” who voted for it.

So-called independent expenditures often escape reporting requirements, even when attack ads against a candidate’s opponent clearly aim to influence the outcome of a campaign. Likewise, issue-focused ads also escape reporting requirements unless they relate to a specific ballot proposal, as opposed to general warnings against plant closures, foreign influence or certain types of energy.

In the case of HB 6, the players include Generation Now, Ohioans for Energy Security, the Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance, the Coalition for Growth & Opportunity, the Growth & Opportunity PAC, Protect Ohio Clean Energy Jobs and others.

“When these groups operate without disclosing who is pulling the strings behind the scenes, it’s hard to hold the puppet master accountable,” Anderson said.

Even when nonprofit groups do report some spending and certain grants to other organizations, there are built-in delays. For example, tax-exempt groups that must file long-form annual reports with the Internal Revenue Service don’t have to do so until the following year. So, some spending disclosures might date back to more than a year and a half earlier.

And, if it weren’t for FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy case, the payment to Generation Now likely wouldn’t have been disclosed, because that organization falls within a category of tax-exempt groups that don’t need to disclose who their funders are, under a 1958 Supreme Court case.

“Until we know as a public who is backing which issues, without a delay … it’s hard to really understand what’s behind different messages,” said Ned Hill, an economist and energy policy expert at Ohio State University. “This is true whether it’s coming from corporate interests on the right … or Gucci Marxists on the left.”

Who benefits from HB 6?

HB 6 gives FirstEnergy and FirstEnergy Solutions much of what they have sought in Ohio energy policy for the last six years. Despite a 1999 law calling for competition in Ohio’s retail electricity market, FirstEnergy has maneuvered in regulatory cases and legislative arenas to compel its utility customers to guarantee electricity sales from some of its coal and nuclear plants since 2014. The company had also supported rollbacks to Ohio’s energy efficiency standard since at least 2013.

FirstEnergy’s leadership continued to seek subsidies from lawmakers and regulators in the lead-up to the 2018 bankruptcy filing by FirstEnergy Solutions. However, FirstEnergy couldn’t use the case to fully shed all environmental responsibilities for cleanup costs, a 2019 ruling said. With the bankruptcy case wrapped up, FirstEnergy is supposed to cease having a controlling interest in that company. FirstEnergy Solutions will now do business as Energy Harbor.

HB 6 took effect after opponents failed to get approximately 266,000 signatures in order to put a referendum on it on the ballot this November to block it. Starting in January, rates for Ohio electric customers will provide roughly $900 million in subsidies for two of FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plants. Rates will also include subsidies for two 1950s-era coal plants in Ohio and Indiana. Those provisions benefit the parent corporations of all of Ohio’s major utilities. In 2011, those companies agreed to keep those two plants open through 2040, despite the growth of fracking and competition from natural gas.

In addition, HB 6 guts the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. That will help FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor) and other companies with fossil fuel plants. It will also help companies that supply fuel to fossil fuel plants.

Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, voted for Ohio’s clean energy standards when they were adopted in 2008. Yet he and others tried to gut them since at least 2013, even when supporting nuclear and coal subsidies, which other conservatives had criticized. And clean energy advocates say the sector provides crucial opportunities for economic growth. When the General Assembly mustered enough votes to gut the standards in 2016, Gov. John Kasich vetoed that bill……………https://energynews.us/2020/03/05/midwest/dark-money-dominated-ohios-nuclear-subsidy-saga/

March 7, 2020 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA

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