First Energy dissolution? An historic opportunity to remove key player in corrupt political culture

April 1, 2022 3:20 am

FirstEnergy’s headquarters in Akron. Source: Google Maps.

Ohio, we were the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the United States last year and the year before ... If Ohio were its own country, we would be the 26th largest emitter on earth ... There is simply no way to solve global climate change without Ohio.

– John Mitterholzer, George Gund Foundation program director for climate and environmental justice

We are out of time. Scientists are running out of words strong enough to convey the civilization-crushing urgency. 

The world’s science community just issued a frighteningly stark warning: “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future.” 

UN Secretary General Guterres: ”I have seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this. Today’s IPCC report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership. Nearly half of humanity is living in the danger zone — now.  Many ecosystems are at the point of no return — now.” This video on tipping points — produced by the author — was shown by Greenpeace UK prior to the climate summit in Scotland. 

If humanity fails to rein in emissions, a dreaded ”runaway train” reaction will set in and within only 50 years crop failures will drive desperate mass migration as life for hundreds of millions degenerates into a brute struggle for survival. If this trajectory continues unabated, those who suffer will look back and see those who failed to act.

They may hold great anger at China and Russia for their national failures, but they may also notice a heavily industrialized state in the U.S. which consistently emitted the third highest level of pollutants in the country. If this continues to hold true, they will be looking at Ohio.

Ohioans now have an opportunity to assist in a historic event that could become a turning point in the battle against an entrenched and corrupt political culture. The biggest scandal ever has been revealed and FirstEnergy has admitted to a colossal $60 million bribery aimed at passing legislation to prop up nuclear and coal and derail a transition to renewable energy and also fund a dark money campaign to ruthlessly shut down a referendum seeking to repeal it.

A grassroots campaign has pointed out that corporations must obtain a charter/license to do business in Ohio. When such a corporation acts in ways that harm the public interest of the people of Ohio, that charter can be revoked. On behalf of that public interest, these campaigners have called upon the attorney general to initiate such a proceeding.

The attorney general’s office has replied that it has attempted to initiate a proceeding to dissolve the business license of FirstEnergy but the case has been placed on indefinite hold. That response: “To your point, we have requested court ordered dissolution of the corporate entities as potential relief in our suit … Unfortunately, our case has been stayed.’’

The Ohio Attorney General office is to be commended for taking this action, which has historic implications. The last time a charter/license of a major company was successfully revoked occurred almost a hundred years ago in 1926. Due to the unprecedented scale of the admitted crime, the most minimal standard of justice and fairness requires that such a trial be granted.

FirstEnergy is not above the law and must be held accountable.

Other Midwest states — such as Illinois and Michigan — are taking bold steps forward into the 21st century green economy. But in Ohio, the question becomes how to break the stranglehold of its dark political culture? The battle over gerrymandered districts is a great example of one avenue. Another is to bypass the state legislature and advance progressive changes via local ballot measures. While signature requirements for state-wide initiatives are daunting, those at the local level are the opposite and easily attainable.

But another great option that deserves more mention is the present one being attempted. FirstEnergy has actually ADMITTED that it committed a grievous crime. It has violated its agreement to refrain from actions that harm the public interest of the people of Ohio. In this case, the harm has not only been outrageously extreme, but due to the open admission it is irrefutable. Therefore, FirstEnergy has forfeited its right to do business in this state. Dissolution is the totally appropriate and measured response at the same level of seriousness as the crime.

Attorney General Yost and his office should be encouraged to take its dissolution effort to the public and generate the kind of support that can break this case out of its ”holding pattern” and be given a fair trial. An online petition has now been launched to gather such support.  

In response to an earlier call for charter revocation, many were hesitant. The battle for forward progress in Ohio has indeed been exhausting. But let us not yield to cynicism. A huge global responsibility rests on Ohio.

There is an historic opportunity to remove a key player in the entrenched political culture that has resisted forward motion in this state for far too long. Such an action would not only benefit our state but the world. For young people and future generations we must act. We must hold on for them and seize the moment that now presents itself to chart a new path.

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Gary Houser
Gary Houser

Gary Houser is a long time public interest writer based in Athens County, co-founder of the Ohio University Ecohouse, advocate for Ohio University conversion to clean electricity, former consultant to the city for its solar array at Athens Community Center, and currently producing educational video resources on the climate crisis.