A Trump campaign official pressured Ohio lawmakers to pass a nuclear and coal plant bailout bill, arguing it would help President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. The state is now one step closer to subsidizing coal and nuclear plants — a goal the president has long supported — and gutting clean energy and energy efficiency requirements.
The Ohio House passed HB 6 with bipartisan support Wednesday, in a 53 to 43 vote. The bill is an effort to boost struggling nuclear and coal power plants in addition to gutting clean energy requirements currently mandated by the state. The bill must now be approved by the state Senate in order to become law, with the governor already in support.
The proposal would create a $300 million subsidy program for two nuclear plants and two coal plants, in addition to limiting property tax devaluation on nuclear plants. Both of those nuclear plants are slated for closure in the next few years, imperiling the jobs of around 1,400 people.
Under HB 6, ratepayers would be charged as much as $1 per month for a “clean air” fund, a plan that would end in 2026 after generating roughly $190 million annually. The bill would also codify the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation’s right to charge customers up to $2.50 monthly to subsidize coal plants in both Ohio and neighboring Indiana. Also included in HB 6 is a measure allowing residents in some areas to contest state-approved wind projects.
“This bill saves jobs,” said state Rep. Jamie Callender (R), who sponsored HB 6 and argued that the legislation would lower bills for “virtually all ratepayers.”
But those lowered bills come predominately from gutting clean energy. HB 6 would do away with clean energy requirements passed in 2008 that require utilities to obtain 12.5% of their power from renewable sources by 2027, in addition to slashing the state’s energy efficiency standard. Customer utility bills currently finance both of these clean energy mandates, paying an average of $4.39 each month.
Clean energy experts slammed HB 6 following its passage in the House. “Imagine having the audacity to label this a ‘clean air’ program,” tweeted Ben Inskeep, a senior analyst with the energy consulting group EQ Research. Inskeep said he was “worried” about the potential for the bill to pass the Senate next.
Some last-minute incentives were added to the bill, including making six solar projects approved by the Ohio Power Siting Board eligible for the “clear air” fund subsidies. Such measures put pressure on Democrats to support the bill, as did heavy lobbying from labor groups.
But perhaps the most prominent pressure, directed towards Republicans, came from at least one official associated with Trump.
Bob Paduchik, a senior adviser for Trump’s re-election campaign, reportedly called at least five Ohio Republicans in advance of the HB 6 vote, arguing that any closure of coal and nuclear plants could harm the president’s support in the 2020 election. That last-minute push came Tuesday night and Paduchik later confirmed to Cleveland.com that he advocated for HB 6 as a private citizen and not on behalf of the president.
“Honestly, I think diversity in electricity generation is a strength in this nation, and I’m concerned that we lose that in Ohio if we shut down these two plants,” he told Cleveland.com.
Trump, however, has repeatedly advocated for the bailout of failing coal and nuclear plants. A year ago, the president announced intent to invoke wartime emergency powers to launch multi-billion dollar rescue efforts for those struggling sectors. But a few months later, the administration appeared to quietly halt that effort following outcry from stakeholders ranging from environmental groups to oil and gas companies.
Even amid setbacks, the administration has taken steps to support the coal industry in particular, rolling back environmental protections and challenging, among others, the Clean Air Act and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, both of which place restrictions on coal plant pollution. Those efforts haven’t done much to help the industry, however; more coal plants closed during Trump’s first two years in office than during former President Barack Obama’s entire first term.
Meanwhile, at least one former Trump official is working to protect the industry. Scott Pruitt, who served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is now a registered lobbyist in Indiana, and is working on behalf of coal interests in the state. Pruitt has also maintained close ties with coal baron Robert E. Murray, who has repeatedly lobbied the Trump administration to keep coal plants open.
If HB 6 passes in Ohio, opponents worry it could lead to similar efforts in other states. Environmentalists fear such an escalation would undercut renewable energy and keep greenhouse gas-generating coal plants alive for longer. Those in oil and gas, meanwhile, see nuclear and coal protections as a direct threat to the rise of natural gas, which is much cheaper.
HB 6 heads next to the Ohio Senate, which could take longer to assess and debate the bill. A final decision will likely come in the next few weeks, however, with the legislative session ending June 26.