Ohio governor calls for repeal of state nuclear bailout bill under probe

(Reuters) - Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Thursday reversed course and called on the state’s legislature to repeal and replace a nuclear energy bailout bill at the center of a federal investigation into bribery.

“This whole policy issue must be revisited by the General Assembly,” DeWine, a Republican, told reporters in a news conference. “While the policy in my opinion is good, the process by which it was created stinks, is terrible.” Earlier this week, he said the bill should not be repealed.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, and four other men tied to state politics were arrested on Tuesday in the $60 million bribery and racketeering case stemming from the bill passed last year to bail out the state’s two nuclear power plants as well as coal plants.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio David DeVillers this week called the case largest bribery and money-laundering scheme in state history.

Akron-based FirstEnergy the company that owns the nuclear plants, said in a news release on Tuesday it had received subpoenas in connection with the investigation surrounding the bill, and intends to fully cooperate with the probe.

In recent years, FirstEnergy was among several companies that have lobbied state and federal officials to get subsidies to keep reactors in service. Aging nuclear plants have suffered from higher security costs and competition from power plants that burn cheaper natural gas.

DeVillers said the company, without identifying it, gave $60 million to Generation Now, a political nonprofit operated by the five men, funds used for lobbying that secured passage of a controversial $1.5 billion bill.

The bill, which passed mostly on a party-line vote with Republicans in the majority, also rolled back renewable energy standards, requiring utilities to get 8.5% of their power from renewable energy, down from 12.5%. DeWine said the legislature should debate whether to reinstate the measure.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; editing by Jonathan Oatis