The debate over Ohio House Bill 6 — which outlines a seven-year program that will subsidize Ohio’s two major nuclear power plants — has implications far beyond what one may presume. Effective as of October, HB 6 suggests that this subsidy will produce a large-scale increase in environmental and economic payoff from the plants.
The two plants, Perry and Davis-Besse, are run by FirstEnergy Solutions, a bankrupt subsidiary of Ohio’s major energy production company. FirstEnergy threatened to shut down the plants in 2020 unless subsidies were provided for their continuation. Ohio lawmakers approved HB 6 in July, meaning that fees, capped at 85 cents per month, will be added to taxpayers’ electricity bills. It is estimated that HB 6 will garner $150 million each year, beginning in 2021.
However, far from being implemented smoothly, HB 6 has caused uproar from opposition groups. Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts and the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance have worked to raise awareness about the bill’s detrimental impacts. Far from a simple disagreement, opposition groups are raising questions about the bill’s negative impact on the environment and opening a discussion regarding health concerns.
OACB brought its complaints to light when it asked the Ohio Supreme Court to consider its case against the bill. However, without enough signatures on the ballot to oppose HB 6, OACB is arguing that the deadlines put in place by the Ohio Supreme Court were unfair and limited their time to collect signatures.
In considering the complexities of the arguments for and against a bill supporting nuclear power, our environmental crisis in the United States comes to mind. With an increasing interest in the country’s renewable energy, Ohio mandated that 12.5 percent of the state’s energy production be renewable. Unfortunately, with the passing of HB 6, this mandate was lessened to 8.5 percent.
The bill itself relies on rhetoric that preaches environmental concerns, namely through the bill’s Ohio Clean Air Program, which would incentivize the construction of plants that promote environmentally sustainable practices. However, those opposing the bill warn that this environmentally-friendly angle is used to lure the public into bailing out the big business corporation, FirstEnergy, from bankruptcy.
While the pro-environmental rhetoric of the bill may indeed be misleading, it is estimated that if the plants were to remain open, $2.1 billion would be saved, and 19.4 million tons of carbon emissions would be prevented. These figures make the bill sound promising in the short term. In the long run, however, the bill may compromise long-term environmental goals delayed by reworking the mandate for renewable energy, as previously mentioned. By breaking down the already-functional program for mandated environmental awareness, the bill may create loopholes that could cause a dramatic emissions increase in the near future.
Aside from environmental concerns, the passing of HB 6 has health implications that should not be overlooked. The Center for Nuclear Matters estimates that with the plants’ closing, there would be an increase of 126 excess deaths from air pollution in the region each year. Thus, it seems evident that the bill should be passed to potentially eliminate pollution that could be caused by replacement energy sources. However, passing HB 6 does not address the issues with safety regulations at the Perry and Davis-Besse plants that have a direct impact on the health of Ohioans.
Backup system failures that occurred at the plants in 2018 alerted the public to the lack of transparency within FirstEnergy’s production and could continue to be detrimental if not appropriately addressed. Given that backup system failures were the preeminent cause of the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima plant in Japan, and FirstEnergy has a history of non-transparency with malfunctions, should we be backing a bill that supports the growth of the company?
While HB 6 has already passed and we are bound to see results soon, opposition groups are still lobbying for a reassessment of the bill. Trapped in legal proceedings, Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts continues drawing attention to the inadequacies in the HB 6 propositions for “change.”
As we keep environmental and health concerns in mind, it is time to reassess our support of House Bill 6 and seek to understand the intricacies of the nuclear power industry that will continue impacting our future.