Too few ‘yes’ votes keep Ohio Clean Air Act in limbo

Ohio Statehouse Newsroom

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Depending on who you ask, the Ohio Clean Air Act was supposed to be resolved by now.

There were a few things Republicans were promising in the Ohio Clean Air Act: it would save jobs, it would ensure cleaner air by keeping two financially failing nuclear power plants running, but perhaps most importantly, to some, it would save ratepayers money.

It promised to do this through the elimination of certain fees on your electric bill.

By slashing those fees off your bill they immediately save you whatever the fees are. Instead of paying $110 dollars, slashing a $5 fee means you pay $105 dollars; 105 is less than 110, ergo savings.

In a vacuum the math is simple, but in the real world, the math is a  little more complicated.

First, there is the issue of the secondary effects a fee may have on your energy bill, like how it could reduce your overall bill through efficiencies that may cease to be there without a mandate for them or financial incentive for the company to maintain costly programs.

But we’re going to set that aside and talk about how not all fees end at a convenient time to fit the narrative that was billed.

Right before the Senate was going to hold the floor vote for House Bill 6, things were put on pause.

Not long beforehand, a notification went out that a conference committee was called for July 31 by the House of Representatives. The timing of this is interesting because the bill in question hadn’t even been passed by the Senate.

Sure, it’s passage was virtually inevitable; President of the Senate Larry Obhof does not call a bill up unless he knows he has the votes to pass it.

As far as I can recall, he’s only been burned by that once when Senator Bill Beagle voted against a veto override when some thought he was a solid “yes” vote. As a result, the override failed and the Heartbeat Abortion bill was vetoed by Governor John Kasich for the second time in a row.

Wednesday, however, things were different and it was all about money. When someone ran the numbers, it turned out that if the Senate passed the bill as it intended to, there would have been a slight increase in what ratepayers would have paid in the first year of the program.

Nothing huge, but it had some House Republicans pushing for changes: they wanted some things pushed back a year to avoid the increase on bills, which would have happened in an election year.

So a last-minute amendment was drafted and passed on the floor with no discussion outside of a very brief description of what it contained.

The amendment delays things so that by the time everything is fully phased in it will be 2021 they can avoid that pesky slight increase, and lawmakers will be safe for another two years.

In the meantime, the $150 million bailout is also delayed for a full year.

FirstEnergy Solutions told lawmakers they needed a commitment the bailout would happen by June 30 or they would have no choice but to begin the irreversible final phase of permanently shutting down the two nuclear power plants.

They said they had to order the one-of-a-kind reactor fuel 8 months before it ran out because that’s how long it takes to develop it, and the red-line date for that order was July 1.

June 30 came and went, so with no deal was in place FirstEnergy Solutions set a new deadline of July 17, two-and-a-half weeks later on the same exact day the lawmakers gave themselves a deadline of finishing both overdue State Operating Budget and Workers Compensation Budget.

FirstEnergy Solutions is going through bankruptcy court right now and investors were not keen on the idea of spending $50 million of their own money on fuel to keep the reactor running for 18-24 months; they wanted the bailout.

It is unknown at this time how waiting an entire extra year before they will see a dime of the bailout money, in addition to having to open their books to prove they need it (something they were against doing just a few weeks ago), will play with the out-of-state investors propping up the failed nuclear power plants.

State Senator Rob McColley voted against the bill and says the market should have been allowed to play itself out.

“To me, it wasn’t necessarily an open and shut case that was made to me that these jobs would have been lost,” said McColley.

McColley points out the company isn’t even finished going through bankruptcy and it is possible another company could come in and purchase the plants and save the jobs without the need for a bailout.

Ultimately McColley found himself in the minority on this bill as it passed out of the Senate with that last-minute amendment.

That should have been it; according to the Speaker of the House, a majority of members were ready to concur to the changes the Senate made and send the bill to the Governor.

But there was a problem. Four “yes” votes were missing. Well, not so much missing as not present. According to Speaker of the House, he had 49 “yes” votes and needed one more, but three previous “yes” votes were not at the Statehouse at 9 p.m. on Wednesday to press their aye button.

So the House decided not to vote on whether they concur or not, and wait to hold that concurrence vote on Aug. 1 in two weeks.

It is unknown if the absent lawmakers are still “yes” votes after all the Senate changes.

The Speaker of the House says it is possible they could come back before Aug. 1 but that is something he would have to poll the members of the chamber on.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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