COLUMBUS —The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should conduct a big-picture, in-depth review of FirstEnergy’s spending and governance in light of the company’s admissions last month about former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo, critics say.
“It’s not a debate anymore whether the company engaged in corruption,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “The company did so. With this pervasive corruption, the PUCO needs to mind the store in order to protect the public interest and to protect consumers.”
On July 22, FirstEnergy admitted it used nonprofit entities “to conceal payments for the benefit of public officials and in return for official action.”
A federal court filing on the same day details multiple interactions with and payments to former House Speaker Larry Householder, who faces criminal charges for an alleged $60 million conspiracy to pass and defend House Bill 6. That nuclear and coal bailout law gutted Ohio’s clean energy standards.
The federal court filing also details FirstEnergy’s dealings with Randazzo. The former PUCO chair helped shape HB 6, and his companies received approximately $22 million from FirstEnergy entities from 2010 through 2019.
According to the filing, FirstEnergy increased those payments in 2015 in exchange for Randazzo having his longstanding client, Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, drop opposition to an earlier nuclear and coal bailout plan.
FirstEnergy paid the last $4.3 million shortly before Randazzo became PUCO chair in 2019.
“In return, [Randazzo] would perform official action in his capacity as PUCO Chairman to further FirstEnergy Corp.’s interests,” the filing said. That included work on HB 6 and “other specific FirstEnergy Corp. legislative and regulatory priorities, as requested and as opportunities arose.”
Ohio Attorney General David Yost has sought to add Randazzo, two of his companies, and former FirstEnergy executives Chuck Jones and Michael Dowling to a state court civil action. But questions remain about how FirstEnergy routed the money, what amounts may have come from ratepayers, and how to prevent future abuses.
“What’s really needed is a more comprehensive investigation — at least of FirstEnergy’s operations and spending related to these various corruption schemes in Ohio, which seem to fall most directly under the PUCO’s venue,” said Dave Anderson, policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.
Soon after Randazzo resigned from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio last November, the Environmental Law & Policy Center asked the PUCO to conduct new proceedings in several FirstEnergy cases.
“FirstEnergy’s payment of $4 million to former Chair Sam Randazzo shortly before he took over as chair of the commission is simply wrong as a matter of law, wrong as a matter of fairness, wrong as a matter of common sense,” Learner said. “It tainted PUCO’s decision-making…