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    DeWine left specifics of nuclear bailout to lawmakers


    August 16, 2022 - Jessie Balmert

     

      Gov. Mike DeWine says he left the language in Ohio's customer-funded nuclear bailout to lawmakers – even as text messages show Lt. Gov. Jon Husted lobbied for more subsidies.

      DeWine said he can't remember advocating for a specific length of time for the nuclear subsidies. Amid negotiations on House Bill 6, the nuclear plants' owners wanted Ohio's 4.5 million energy customers to foot the bill for 10 years, rather than six or seven.

      "I don't recall having any involvement in that issue," DeWine said Monday. "I just don't have any recollection."

      DeWine said he consistently advocated for policies that would keep Ohio's two nuclear plants, owned by FirstEnergy Solutions that later became Energy Harbor, running, and that included a $1 billion bailout. But the governor said he left the details to Ohio lawmakers.

      "How this was getting done, what the language was, was something that the Legislature was doing," DeWine said. "Everything that was in that bill, that I leave up to the Legislature. I made it very clear what my goal is, and my goal was to make sure that we continue to have nuclear power in the state of Ohio."

      Text messages between FirstEnergy executives indicate Husted, a former Ohio House speaker, did not leave the details to the Legislature. Instead, he advocated for more subsidies for the nuclear plants, according to records that the Ohio Consumers' Counsel filed to force FirstEnergy executives to answer questions about lobbying.

      "Just had long convo with JHusted just now," FirstEnergy Senior Vice President Michael Dowling texted CEO Chuck Jones on July 1, 2019. "All is well. JH is working on the 10 years. He's afraid it's going to end up being 8. Talk later."

      Husted told reporters Monday that he was "a long-time advocate" for saving the two nuclear power plants and so were a number of labor unions and Democrats.

      "I encouraged all through that process publicly, privately that the bill pass, but I wasn't involved in the legislative process," Husted said. "I stand by that and those are the facts. I don't care what anybody else says about it, that's the truth."

      Put simply, advocating for nuclear energy was a policy position of the DeWine-Husted administration. And it's one the governor has "never changed."

      "There were a lot of people of goodwill" trying to save those nuclear plants, Husted said. "That's separate from what FirstEnergy and Larry Householder are alleged to do. And we will find out whether they committed a crime when that trial occurs, but the two are not the same thing. The people who were working in good faith to do this didn't know anything about all that. They were trying to do the right thing."

      DeWine also said he has "no idea" what FirstEnergy executives meant when they wrote that he and Husted performed "battlefield triage" to appoint the company's pick for top utility regulator.

      In early 2019, DeWine's pick to lead the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Sam Randazzo, faced pushback because of his past ties to FirstEnergy. The company later admitted it bribed Randazzo to help its bottom line and paid his companies $22 million between 2010 and early 2019, according to FirstEnergy's deferred prosecution agreement.

      Randazzo has not been charged with any crime and says he did nothing wrong.

      "That bullet grazed the temple," Dowling texted Jones about Randazzo's appointment process. Jones replied: "Forced (DeWine)/(Husted) to perform battlefield triage. It's a rough game."

      DeWine told reporters in Whitehall that he didn't know what "battle triage" meant.

      "I would just caution that I can't control what someone else said. I can control what I say," DeWine said. "But I can't control what someone else is reporting back to their boss about. I don't know what he's talking about."

      Reporter Anna Staver contributed reporting to this article. Jessie Balmert is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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