The unfreezing of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s investigations into HB 6 gives the beleaguered agency a chance to demonstrate independence from the utilities that saddled ratepayers with unfair and higher electric bills.

PUCO issued its first stay of its HB 6 investigations on Aug. 24, 2022, two years after the indictments of former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder and four associates. It extended the stay twice more through Householder’s March 2023 conviction and the federal and state indictments of scandal-plagued Sam Randazzo, the former PUCO chairman.

The stay officially ended Feb. 23.

During that time, federal and state prosecutors along with intervenors in the HB 6 audits have revealed much of the corruption enabled by the 2019 law Householder rammed through the legislature to benefit FirstEnergy Corp. and its partners that own Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC).

Meanwhile, PUCO has been revealed to give the enablers of HB 6 a free hand to obstruct public disclosure and perpetuate the unfairness of the law that was shaped by former PUCO chairman Sam Randazzo.

Reporting by Checks & Balances Project has shown how PUCO staff members blindly accepted utilities’ claims that publicly available information were trade secrets and allowed the companies a free hand in redacting details from the public audits into the effects of the law.

PUCO staff have been revealed to order the auditing firm hired to investigate HB 6 to water down its reports, and the agency has refused to reveal the identities of the staff who recommended granting the July 2023 protective order that hid many embarrassing deals from the public.

Some avenues of investigation for PUCO include:

  • Randazzo’s influence as chairman on multiple cases that came before PUCO during his short, inglorious tenure.
  • How the bailout of FirstEnergy’s nuclear plants enabled the eventual sale of those plants for a huge profit after the FirstEnergy’s nuclear power subsidiary emerged from bankruptcy.

There are many leads to follow. Does PUCO have the will to pursue them?

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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