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Ohio Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Nuclear Bailout Law Referendum Case

The Ohio Supreme Court is likely to hear the case filed by Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts in the first few months of 2020.
The Ohio Supreme Court is likely to hear the case filed by Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts in the first few months of 2020.

The battle over the energy law that starts providing subsidies to Ohio’s two nuclear power plants in 2021 may not be over.

The Ohio Supreme Court has voted 4-0 to hear the case filed by Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts. Three justices recused themselves from the case, citing political campaign conflicts.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts had said it was denied a full 90 days to gather signatures for a referendum. They want to overturn the law that subsidizes Ohio's two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions and two coal fired plants owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corporation. It also also shrinks and eventually eliminates the requirements that utilities get a percentage of their power from renewable energy sources and scraps utilities' mandated energy efficiency programs.

They claim they were delayed after Attorney General Dave Yost rejected their first attempt at petition language, but also that people hired by the law’s supporters followed and blocked petition circulators, such as Rachael Belz from Ohio Citizen Action.

"Friends of mine, allies, people that would normally signed it weeks ago but they haven't been able to find it because of all these tactics," Belz said while trying to gather signatures the weekend before the petitions needed to be turned in on October 21.

The groups supporting the law say monitors were employed to educate people, and they also say the referendum process has worked this way in Ohio for the last 80 years.

Neither supporters nor opponents have revealed their donors.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts had taken its case to federal court, but the judge kicked it back to the Ohio Supreme Court, saying those justices needed to answer questions of state law.

The law's supporters also had a case they filed with the Ohio Supreme Court, claiming that the subsidies are a tax increase, and therefore couldn't be put before voters. But a law professor who wanted the referendum said if that were true, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has approved several tax increases over the years.

The court won't decide that tax question. But it will decide whether opponents should get an extra 38 days, which they say will allow them to get 44,000 more signatures to take the law it to the ballot next year. Both sides have 40 days to file briefs and then oral arguments will be scheduled.

The law was first unveiled in April by House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) as a needed overhaul of state energy policy. Republicans were split on it, and Democrats were angered when a rewrite of the proposal to bring on more GOP votes gutted the green energy standards - something many Republicans had wanted for years but couldn't get past former Gov. John Kasich. But this time, Gov. Mike DeWine personally pushed for the law.

The referendum attempt that ended on October 21 was one of those most bitter, divisive and expensive campaigns in recent state history.

The law's supporters, backed by the groups Ohioans For Energy Security and Generation Now, had mounted a relentless campaign to stop the referedum. Monitors worked the field while an ad and mail campaign hit the airwaves and mailboxes, attempting to tie the law's opponents to Chinese interests and raising questions about the criminal records of petition circulators.  There were also accusations that the law's supporters were trying to buy off circulators and take their petitions, but those groups denied those charges.

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.