COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans are starting to receive notices that they are eligible to receive money from the FirstEnergy House Bill 6 scandal, but it is long from over.
FirstEnergy and Energy Harbor reached a $49 million class action settlement to claims that they "influenced the passage of a law," which in turn increased the price of electricity, according to Ohio Electricity Litigation.
H.B. 6 is known as one of, if not the worst, public corruption scandal in Ohio's history.
"The average Ohioan is paying more, Ohio overall, the public is paying hundreds of millions of dollars for private players to make out like bandits," lawyer and author David Pepper said.
Ohio pays anywhere from $230-280,000 per day due to the controversial bill, Pepper added.
Federal prosecutors say the $1.3 billion bailout to companies like FirstEnergy raised electricity rates and had Ohioans paying for fossil fuel power plants.
This class action lawsuit should start helping Clevelanders soon, according to Andrew Pollis, Case Western Reserve University law professor, said.
Smith v. FirstEnergy Corp. is pending in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and Emmons v. FirstEnergy Corp.is pending in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
"This is a postcard that is notifying people that there has been a settlement with FirstEnergy in two different class action lawsuits," Pollis said. "You will get whatever minimal recovery each individual class member is entitled to."
If a consumer paid Cleveland Electric, Ohio Edison or Toledo Edison electricity rates, fees, tolls or other costs under H.B. 6 between Jan. 1, 2020, and June 22, 2022 — a consumer can get that money back. The costs could also come from another recovery mechanism approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), according to the notice.
The payments will vary depending on how much you spent, Pollis said.
But the settlement comes with a price.
"You might lose some rights," the professor said.
If a consumer accepts the payment, they must drop or release any claims they have against the energy companies that "relate to or arise out of HB 6 or the allegations," according to the notice.
"But in a lot of settlements, the reason the company agrees to it is they think, 'oh, this is the last time I have to pay anything for it,'" Pepper said. "One of the tricks of a lawsuit is when they settle it."
To participate in this settlement, the consumer doesn't need to do anything. If someone wants to still be able to bring claims against the companies, they must opt out.
"If you get a one-time check, part of the agreement is no one can ever sue again," the lawyer said. "But you're still being charged."
That's right — H.B. 6 isn’t repealed, so a consumer will still be paying for coal plants.
"It's like the bank robber saying, 'here are some of the things I stole back,' but they're still stealing from the other side," he added.
Although Pepper is the former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, he is fighting for all Ohioans — no matter their political affiliation.
"If you're in Ohio right now, your energy bill is subsidizing an outdated coal-fired plant in Indiana — congratulations," he said. "That's what this Ohio Statehouse thought you should be paying for."
No Ohioans should be impressed by this settlement until the entirety of H.B. 6 is repealed since it doesn't benefit the consumers at all, he said.
This settlement began after Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four of his associates were arrested on charges in relation to “what is likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio," one that allegedly involved at least $61 million passed through a 501c4 organization controlled by Householder and other entities for the purpose of passing H.B. 6 in 2019, a law that provided a $1.5 billion taxpayer bailout to FirstEnergy.
Recent stories revolving around H.B. 6:
- Texts, calendars, emails link DeWine to FirstEnergy’s bribery scandal
- FirstEnergy asks its fired former CEO to return the $56 million it paid him
- Ohio House won’t release texts between House Rep and indicted ex-Speaker
- Who paid the bribes? Judge demands answers in FirstEnergy shareholders’ suit
The best way to stop paying for a coal plant in Indiana is to confront the lawmakers who voted for it, Pepper said.
Here is how the 133rd General Assembly voted on H.B. 6 in 2019:
|Bride Rose Sweeney (D)|
|Candice R. Keller (R)|
|Casey Weinstein (D)|
|Cecil Thomas (D)|
|Craig S. Riedel (R)|
|Dave Greenspan (R)|
|Emilia Strong Sykes (D)|
|Erica C. Crawley (D)|
|Fred Strahorn (D)|
|Gayle Manning (R)|
|Hearcel Craig (D)|
|J. Kyle Koehler (R)|
|Janine R. Boyd (D)|
|Jeffrey Crossman (D)|
|Juanita Brent (D)|
|Mark J. Romanchuk (R)|
|Mary Lightbody (D)|
|Michael A. Rulli (R)|
|Michael J. O'Brien (D)|
|Michael Skindell (D)|
|Michele Lepore-Hagan (D)|
|Nickie Antonio (D)|
|Phil Robinson (D)|
|Reggie Stoltzfus (R)|
|Richard Brown (D)|
|Riordan T. McClain (R)|
|Rob McColley (R)|
|Sedrick Denson (D)|
|Stephanie Howse (D)|
|Stephanie Kunze (R)|
|Stephen A. Huffman (R)|
|Susan Manchester (R)|
|Timothy Ginter (R)|
|Tina Maharath (D)|
|Vernon Sykes (D)|
However, most if not all of the Democrats who originally voted yes wanted to repeal it, once they "found out" what the law really did. Many Republicans wanted to repeal different parts of it, as well.
The only part of H.B. 6 that has been repealed was the nuclear bailout provision, which hadn't even gone into effect in the first place, Pepper said.
There are still movements and bills in the current Legislature which would repeal the bill in its entirety. However, the bills are stagnant — even if they were proposed by Republicans.
"If you're in a district where you look at your state rep. and they're voting for all this stuff, they refuse to repeal H.B. 6, they're the ones who voted to add it to your bill — Well, give them hell for it and don't stop," Pepper said. "They expect that you won't care or that you'll go away. Until they feel accountable for what they're doing, they will just keep doing it."