Checks & Balances Project filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Thursday, seeking the names and deliberations of staff members who recommended granting the protective order that hid key details from the audit into the effects of Ohio’s HB 6 law.

The protective order granted July 7 redacted details from the audit that were already available publicly, including the identity of the company overcharging the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC) for coal used at the Clifty Creek power plant, the costs of the coal and OVEC’s net income.

C&BP wants PUCO to disclose the identities of its staff who recommended the protective order to determine if they had any conflicts of interest, connections to the parties seeking the orders or communications with individuals or groups that have had conflicts.

Previous conflicts of interest

It wouldn’t be the first conflict of interest for a PUCO official connected to HB 6.

Former PUCO chairman Sam Randazzo, who was indicted on federal corruption charges Dec. 4.

On Dec. 4, former PUCO chairman Sam Randazzo was indicted for his role in the HB 6 corruption scandal, which included Randazzo writing parts of the law that forced Ohio electricity customers to pay an extra charge on their bills to subsidize the money-losing OVEC plants. At least one other recent PUCO employee helped Randazzo craft HB 6. 

Starting in 2017, executives at Akron-based FirstEnergy approved paying $61 million into dark-money political funds used to bribe former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, support the election of pro-Householder legislators and pay for the campaign that passed HB 6 in 2019. In 2021, FirstEnergy agreed to a federal deferred prosecution agreement in which it acknowledging bribing Householder and Randazzo.

Householder was convicted of federal racketeering charges in March and is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Order concealed identity of HB 6 beneficiary

The PUCO protective order prevented the public from knowing the financial motives that coal supplier Resource Fuels had in passing HB 6, because the company’s identity was removed from the audit conducted by London Economics International of Boston.

C&BP reporting has shown that independent analysts have named Resource Fuels as the company that auditors said was paid $12.6 million more for the coal it supplied OVEC in 2020 than another company that delivered more coal to Clifty Creek from the same coal mine.

PUCO spokesman Matt Schilling said some of the information redacted from the audit was ordered to be revealed during a November hearing, but the redacted version remains on the PUCO website. Schilling rejected a Nov. 27 C&BP request for the names of the PUCO staff members.

Part of the C&BP Freedom of Information Act filing seeks the identities of the PUCO employees or commissioners with whom Schilling discussed the request for the names.

C&BP also wants to know if PUCO staff realized that information covered by the protective order was already publicly available, either from the U.S. Energy Information Administration or on OVEC’s website. Such public disclosure rendered moot the claims that the information that utilities wanted to conceal was somehow a trade secret.

Resource Fuels’ owner didn’t disclose HB 6 activities

C&BP reported Wednesday that the Boich Companies, the owner of Resource Fuels, didn’t list its political activities to pass HB 6 on any of the Ohio lobbying forms it filed in 2017, 2018 and 2019 despite the repeated contacts of company officials with FirstEnergy, Householder and Randazzo in the pro-HB 6 effort.

Boich’s lobbying reports are another facet of the company’s stealth campaign to elect Householder allies and create a favorable environment to limit utility regulation and pass HB 6, which allowed Resource Fuels to continue being overpaid for coal.

Ray Locker is the executive director for Checks & Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.


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