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In Ohio, shady front groups fight dirty to attack grassroots campaign against $1 billion nuke/coal bailout

Oct 07, 2019 3:53 PM

"An ugly political war is raging in Ohio, pitting consumer and environmental advocates against big utilities and dark-money front groups that want to make electricity customers pay more than $1 billion to bail out failing nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The bad guys are fighting dirty, using deceitful scare tactics and alleged cash payoffs that are now under investigation by the state attorney general, to derail the anti-bailout campaign.

It’s a fight for the future of energy that could erupt in other states as utilities seek public subsidies to prop up their outdated, inefficient, dirty and dangerous power plants against competition from cheaper and cleaner solar and wind power. Figures compiled by EWG show that in the past three years, five states have handed utilities more than $15 billion in taxpayer-funded bailouts of failing nuclear plants.

This summer, Ohio utility interests spent almost $10 million to push through legislation to slap a surcharge on ratepayers’ monthly electricity bills in a move to subsidize two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions and two coal plants owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corp. Not only are the plants not needed to provide a secure supply of electricity but the bill would also effectively stop state renewable energy and efficiency mandates for utilities.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed the bill. But a grassroots group, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, wants to let voters decide whether to overturn the law."

-- Grant Smith and Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group (EWG)

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Editorial: Campaign built on deceit undermines democracy in Ohio

Oct 07, 2019 3:13 PM

COLUMBUS -- "Each time we think we have stated strongly enough our thorough disgust with backers of a nuclear-plant bailout (House Bill 6) and their lying, dangerous campaign to prevent voters from having a chance to overturn it, a new outrage prompts us to say it again: Voters, do not be fooled. If you oppose making electricity customers pay an extra $150 million per year to subsidize two failed power plants — or even if you just think voters should have the last word — sign the petition.

A dark-money group calling itself Ohioans for Energy Security — likely funded by the nuclear plants who want the bailout — has embarked on a scorched-truth campaign to stop an effort by another dark-money group, funded by natural gas interests, to put a referendum — which could cancel HB 6 — on the November 2020 ballot.

The latest ugly distortion is in a 30-second TV ad by Ohioans for Energy Security that began airing last Friday. It warns viewers about people gathering petition signatures for the referendum, describing them as 'outsiders brought into our state to roam our neighborhoods.'

We call this ugly because it casts the gathering of ballot petition signatures as something sinister. A mailer sent out by the group earlier instructed, 'If you see a circulator, report them to our hotline.' For what? Committing democracy?"

-- Editorial Board, The Columbus Dispatch

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Ohio AG investigates new allegations in fight over energy bill referendum

Oct 03, 2019 4:10 PM

COLUMBUS — "Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is investigating new allegations that people circulating petitions for a statewide referendum on a controversial energy bill are being offered cash to quit the campaign and to sell signed petitions to the opposing side.

It’s the latest chapter in a costly, contentious fight over House Bill 6, which was signed into law in July. It mandates Ohio’s 4.8 million utility customers pay monthly fees to bailout aging nuclear power plants owned by Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions and two coal-fired plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electricity Corp. The bailouts add up to more than $1 billion.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, which faces an Oct. 21 deadline to collect 265,744 valid voter signatures, alleges that opponents of their campaign have offered their circulators as much as $10,000 to quit and one of their petition circulating vendors was offered $100,000 to pull out."

— Laura A. Bischoff, Dayton Daily News

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Nuclear bailout group encouraging people to remove signature from referendum

Oct 03, 2019 4:06 PM

Ohio voter signs petition for HB6 referendum in Columbus.

"'When HB6's supporters' false and misleading propaganda failed to slow down our petition drive, they resorted to physical intimidation tactics. When intimidation tactics didn't work, supporters switched to trying to confuse the situation even more with a withdrawal campaign. Voters are not confused. They know HB6 is a bailout and they know this petition will put the billion dollar bailout up for a vote,' Pierce says in a written statement.

Catherine Turcer with the voter rights group Common Cause Ohio, says the effort to remove names from the petition is just the latest strategy from groups trying to interfere with a citizen's right to referendum.

'Making it just even harder for voters to have the opportunity to vote on this energy bill,' says Turcer. 'There are so many hoops to do a referendum, it's just creating yet another hoop.'"

-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau

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FirstEnergy, disavow aggressive tactics against anti-HB 6 petition circulators

Oct 02, 2019 12:47 PM

"Yost called on signature-gatherers to report harassment and intimidation directly to his office by calling (800) 282-0515.

A statement from Generation Now, the pro-HB 6 group that has hired petition blockers, said it would not tolerate illegal tactics. 'Field staffers have been reminded repeatedly to act appropriately and generally it appears they are,' said the statement from spokesman Curt Steiner. 'One staffer was fired after misbehavior was documented and FieldWorks will follow up on any documented incidents.'

But the best and surest way to end these incidents is for FirstEnergy to step forward now and do the right thing, by condemning the intimidation and calling for it to end."

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Nuclear Bailout Supporters Clashing With Referendum Petitioners In The Field

Oct 01, 2019 10:56 AM

 Amy Sutherly gathers signatures to put a referendum of HB6 on the 2020 November ballot. She has a brace around her wrist saying she sustained the injury after a counter petitioner hit her.

COLUMBUS -- "Generation Now is a dark money group funding a counter referendum effort. They're trying to protect the nuclear subsidies bound for FirstEnergy Solutions. Part of that effort is to pay for people to follow petitioners like Sutherly around.

Sutherly says these trackers are becoming aggressive and intimidating. She says they've crowded around her, followed her in a car for miles while she was driving home, and, while she was collecting signatures on Ohio State University's campus, assaulted her.

'The one gentleman turned around and wailed my hand in front of three students and knocked the phone out of my hand,' Sutherly explains.

Sutherly, who's wearing a brace on her left wrist, says she reported the case to OSU police."

-- Andy Chow, National Public Radio 

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Yost warns House Bill 6 supporters to not harass referendum workers

Sep 30, 2019 1:02 PM

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"Yost issued the warning Monday after reviewing a 'handful' of reports of misconduct by “blockers,” who are instructed by bailout supporters to attempt to discourage voters from signing the referendum petition forms.

'There’s enough reports in the news media and on social media I am concerned about it. I don’t want this to become normal practice in Ohio political life,' the attorney general said.

'It’s great if you are saying, ‘Don’t sign that, it is going to be bad,’ that’s free speech. But, intimidating or harassing a circulator, that is over the line into criminal conduct.'

'This is not just political pranksterism,' Yost said. Interfering with a petition circulator is a misdemeanor carrying 90 to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, the Republican said.

Yost encouraged those who witness misconduct by petition circulators or 'blockers' to contact his office’s help center so information potentially can be referred to county prosecutors."

-- Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch  

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3 Ohio Supreme Court justices remove themselves from House Bill 6

Sep 30, 2019 10:52 AM

Seal of the Supreme Court of Ohio.svg

COLUMBUS -- "Two Ohio Supreme Court justices recused themselves Friday from hearing a lawsuit seeking to stop a referendum attempt to cast aside the House Bill 6 bailout of two nuclear power plants.

A third justice plans to disqualify himself from the case in a filing Monday.

The common thread: Two of the defendants in the House Bill 6 case managed the three Republicans’ successful election campaigns.

Justice Patrick Fischer removed himself from the case Friday morning, with Justice Judith French following Friday afternoon. Justice Patrick DeWine told The Dispatch he would recuse himself Monday.

Fischer and French did not state the reason for disqualifying themselves from hearing the case in which FirstEnergy Solutions is suing Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts in a bid to negate the group’s petition effort to place a House Bill 6 repeal referendum on the November 2020 ballot."

-- Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch

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FirstEnergy Solutions rang up $1 million legal bill to pass House Bill 6

Sep 23, 2019 10:32 AM

COLUMBUS -- FirstEnergy Solutions rang up a legal bill approaching $1 million to help persuade the Ohio General Assembly to approve the $1 billion, consumer-financed bailout of its pair of nuclear power plants.

Led by work on House Bill 6, a request for payment of legal bills filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Akron shows FirstEnergy Solutions was billed $1.149 million for legal work on 'state government affairs.'

The billing covers April 1 through July 31, the period in which House Bill 6 was introduced, received more than a dozen committee hearings and then was passed by the Republican-controlled House and Senate."

-- Randy Ludlow, Columbus Dispatch

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Letter: Ohio’s leaders should condemn false advertising

Sep 23, 2019 9:51 AM

Rachael Belz, Executive director, Ohio Citizen Action.

COLUMBUS -- "As executive director of Ohio Citizen Action, I feel compelled to express my disgust over the outright lies pro-bailout forces have employed to quash the ballot initiative to repeal House Bill 6, the coal and nuclear bailout bill. It’s bad enough to suggest that signing a petition gives personal information to the Chinese government, but Ohioans for Energy Security goes too far in encouraging Ohioans to report petitioners’ locations via a “hotline,” as if they were an invading menace to be feared.

Our staff members circulate support statements for our energy campaigns and my first thought when seeing the ads was concern for their safety and helping them to avoid harassment. On these grounds, our organization has issued a cease-and-desist letter calling for the ads to be pulled.

Ohioans for Energy Security also has hired workers known as “blockers” to shadow petition circulators and prevent voters from signing petitions. Last week a “blocker” assaulted a paid signature collector for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts.

Where are Ohio’s politicians? Why are they not condemning these false ads and physical attacks? Why isn’t Gov. Mike DeWine speaking out? It’s completely irresponsible for our lawmakers, even those misguided enough to have voted for the bailout, to fail to condemn this campaign.

-- Rachael Belz, letter to the editor, Columbus Dispatch