Agency to review spending by utility tied to bribery probe

An Ohio regulatory agency has ordered an electric company tied to an alleged $60 million bribery scheme to show whether it spent customer money to support passage of now tainted bailout legislation for two nuclear power plants

CLEVELAND (AP) — A regulatory agency that oversees utility rates in Ohio has asked an electric company tied to an alleged $60 million bribery scheme to show it did not use customers' money to support passage of legislation to subsidize two struggling nuclear power plants.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on Tuesday ordered FirstEnergy Corp. to “show cause” by Sept. 30 that “the costs of any political or charitable spending in support” of the bailout bill “were not included, directly or indirectly, in any rates or charges paid by ratepayers in this state.”

The now tainted legislation known as HB6 was approved last year and took effect in October. It requires all Ohio electric customers to pay $1 billion in subsidies over a six-year period for the plants owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary until February.

An FBI affidavit made public in July said FirstEnergy paid $60 million to fund the scheme overseen by recently deposed Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, who along with four others now faces federal racketeering charges.

FirstEnergy spokesperson Jennifer Young said Wednesday that the company is reviewing the PUCO order and will respond by the Sept. 30 deadline. FirstEnergy has denied wrongdoing.

The scheme helped elect candidates supportive of Householder, get Householder selected as House speaker, get the bailout bill approved, and then deploy a dirty tricks campaign to keep a referendum backed by HB6 opponents off the ballot, authorities have alleged.

Tuesday's PUCO order references a Sept. 8 filing by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel that asked for an independent audit and investigation into FirstEnergy activities surrounding the bailout legislation and its corporate governance.

Consumers' Counsel spokesperson J.P. Blackwood released a statement Wednesday that said the PUCO “implemented only a part of our several requests to protect Ohioans by investigating FirstEnergy.”

"We hope the PUCO will more fully use those powers to broaden its announced ‘review’ of FirstEnergy’s alleged conduct in influencing the passage of House Bill 6,” Blackwood said.