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PUCO restarts investigations into FirstEnergy’s actions

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(The Center Square) – A Public Utilities Commission of Ohio investigation into FirstEnergy’s actions surrounding the largest public corruption scandal in state history is back on after a 19-month delay.

The PUCO paused four different investigations into the Akron-based energy company’s connection to the state’s billion-dollar bailout of the nuclear energy industry in August 2022 at the request of the U.S. attorney of the Southern District of Ohio.

“We remain committed to protecting the interests of Ohio’s consumers,” PUCO Chairwoman Jenifer French said. “The PUCO will continue to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”

A PUCO administrative judge is expected to set hearing dates and a due date for an audit of the utility’s rates related to political and charitable expenses.

As previously reported by The Center Square, FirstEnergy agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their investigation, admitting it conspired with public officials, others and entities to pay millions of dollars to public officials in exchange for specific official action to help FirstEnergy.

It also admitted it paid millions to an elected state public official through the official’s nonprofit in return for the official pursuing nuclear legislation to FirstEnergy’s benefit.

The scandal led to the removal of former House Speaker Larry Householder, who was convicted of federal racketeering charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Earlier this month, an Ohio grand jury indicted former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo and two former executives of FirstEnergy on 27 state felony charges related to House Bill 6.

The legislation created an Ohio Clean Air Program to support nuclear energy plants and some solar power facilities. Electricity consumers were to fund the program with the surcharge that ran through 2027.

The fee, scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2021, was stopped by the Ohio Supreme Court in late December 2020. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost also reached a deal with FirstEnergy to stop what would have been a $120 million windfall for the company based on another part of the law.

The $60 million bribery scandal led to several attempts in the General Assembly to repeal House Bill 6 completely, but none have passed.

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