HB 6: Ad campaign draws criticism from referendum backers

Larry Limpf


After the Ohio Attorney General certified the language of a proposed referendum to repeal House Bill 6, referendum organizers have begun their petition drive to collect 265,744 signatures by Oct. 21.
They’re also criticizing radio and TV advertisements that depict the referendum as backed by Chinese interests.
HB 6 creates the Ohio Clean Air Program that supporters say provides incentives to maintain power plants that have zero or reduced emissions of carbon dioxide. But a coalition of opponents contend the bill is more about bailing out the state’s two financially struggling nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. The company has stated it will close them without assistance from the state.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts must obtain signatures from registered voters in at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties to put the issue on the November, 2020 statewide ballot. From each of the 44 counties, there must be enough signatures equal to at least 3 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial race. That means petitioners must secure 9,151 signatures in Lucas County; 1,095 in Ottawa County; 3,005 in Wood County and 1,326 in Sandusky County for those petitions to qualify.
The logistics of collecting qualified signatures aside, organizers of the petition drive are also facing an ad campaign by a group called Ohioans for Energy Security that claims the Chinese government is pushing the referendum.
Gene Pierce, a spokesman for Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, called for the ads to be pulled.
“These ads are designed to intimidate and threaten our petitioners who are exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to place this ridiculous bailout on the ballot,” he said. “This is the kind of garbage that will get someone hurt and we will hold all parties associated with their campaign responsible for any harm that comes to our circulators.”
The website of Ohioans for Energy Security includes the statement: “China is quietly invading our energy grid and coming for our Ohio jobs.”
The website lists two natural gas-powered plants, including the Oregon Clean Energy Center and a plant in Carroll County, that have been partially financed by foreign banks, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China.
One of the arguments behind the advertisements is that Bill Siderewicz, a contributing member of Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, is a partner in Oregon Clean Energy Center.
But even FirstEnergy relies on foreign lenders, including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
An October 2018 amendment to a FirstEnergy credit agreement with more than 20 foreign and domestic lenders lists the Chinese bank as committing $111.4 million to the $2.5 billion total agreement.
Siderewicz told The Press last week that his corporation, Clean Energy Future, has borrowed “far less” from the Chinese bank to build gas-powered plants than FirstEnergy has borrowed from the same bank.
He said foreign and domestic lenders are covered by U.S. banking laws. “ICBC is no different than any other lender. They can’t walk into FirstEnergy and make demands other than what the loan agreement allows. Nor can they do so for a new gas-fired plant. There is no Chinese boogey man as depicted by FirstEnergy and HB 6 proponents.”
Also, lenders aren’t taking an equity position in companies via their loans and don’t have a say in how to run the companies.
“They simply lend money and get paid back with interest. The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is lending debt, not equity. It has no voice as to how FirstEnergy is run or an Ohio gas-fired plant,” Siderewicz said.
An email message left for comment with LoParo Public Relations, a Columbus public relations firm whose president, Carlo LoParo, is a spokesman for Ohioans for Energy Security, was not returned.


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