The Ohio House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a measure that would subsidize the state’s struggling coal and nuclear plants after lobbying from a member of President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.
Bob Paduchik, who also led the Ohio Trump campaign in 2016, called lawmakers urging them to support the legislation and stressing that the president was behind it as well, according to a person familiar with the conversations.
Paduchik’s pitch underscored the thousands of coal and nuclear power plant jobs that could be tied to the legislation and the political risks to Trump in the battleground state if it failed, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.
Representatives of the White House and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Paduchik is a former co-chairman of the Republican National Committee and also worked for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group.
Paduchik could not be reached for comment. He told Cleveland.com that he was advocating for the bill as a private citizen with a personal interest in energy issues, and not on behalf of the White House.
The measure, which now goes to the Ohio Senate, requires electric customers to subsidize the state’s aging coal and nuclear power plants. The measure is likely to be approved before the end of the legislative session June 26, according to consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners.
FirstEnergy Solutions said in a statement that the legislation would preserve more than 4,000 jobs and an important revenue source for Ohio
Last year, Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. asked the Department of Energy to issue an emergency order to keep certain plants operating. And Robert E. Murray, the billionaire founder and chairman of mining company Murray Energy Corp., which has sold coal to the company, spent months in 2017 pushing Trump and top administration officials to keep coal power plants running.
The Ohio measure would slap new fees on electric bills for a “Clean Air Program” and steer most of the revenue to FirstEnergy Solutions’s Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants. A separate monthly fee would be authorized through 2030 to support two coal plants operated by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp.
FirstEnergy Solutions, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, has said it would close the reactors without the subsidies. Critics characterize the Ohio plan as a corporate bailout.
“Advocates of HB 6 have spent millions on ads and high-priced lobbyists to ram this unpopular bill through the Ohio legislature,” said Dick Munson, a director of the Environmental Defense Fund, referring to the bill. “Now it seems they’re so desperate they’ve even called in the White House to lobby Ohio Republicans for the bill, somehow arguing that a coal and nuclear bailout will help the president’s re-election prospects.”
FirstEnergy Solutions said in a statement that the legislation would preserve more than 4,000 jobs and an important revenue source for Ohio by keeping the state’s nuclear power plants open for years to come.
Paduchik emphasized the jobs in his calls with Ohio legislators. The message: Trump can’t afford to see the plants shut down and jobs lost heading into the 2020 election.
The Ohio effort follows a failed bid by the Trump administration to shore up unprofitable coal and nuclear power plants with federal subsidies.
In at least one case, a measure intended to rescue coal plants in Indiana, the coal industry sought to enlist the help of the Trump administration, according to a second person familiar with the efforts. The legislation ultimately failed.
Among those lobbying in favor of that measure, which sought to prevent Indiana utilities from replacing coal plants with gas and renewable energy sources, was former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
(By Ari Natter, Stephen Cunningham and Jennifer A. Dlouhy)