FILE - Byron, nuclear plant, Illinois, Exelon

In this March 16, 2011, file photo, steam escapes from Exelon Corp.'s nuclear plant in Byron, Ill.

As federal lawmakers deliberate over President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion plan to beef up American infrastructure, few might have noticed that the current plan also includes a $6 billion credit line for nuclear plants. Americans of all stripes should be concerned that some of these funds in this credit line could go to prop up profitable nuclear plants that don’t appear to need help.

Such a question hits hard in Illinois. Recently, the Illinois state legislature approved a bill that offers nearly $700 million in subsidies to Exelon for its Byron and Dresden nuclear plants and Gov. J.B. Pritzker ultimately signed the legislation into law. The problem? Not only have independent analyses shown the nuclear plants to be profitable, Exelon is also under intense legal scrutiny for corruption. Why would lawmakers on any level even consider rewarding the company with subsidies?

For starters, the two nuclear plants Exelon claims are struggling – Byron and Dresden – are actually operating at a profit. In fact, the Independent Market Monitor verified the profitability of the plants, finding that Byron is operating at a budget surplus of $77.5 million without subsidies and Dresden is operating at an annual budget surplus of $83.7 million also excluding subsidies. The Electric Power Supply Association, in fact, testified to the profitability of these plants in June of this year before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. What’s more, the Independent Market Monitor for PJM, the power grid operator for the area including parts of Illinois, has stated that not a single nuclear plant on the PJM system is at risk of retirement.

The fact that these plants don’t need public subsidies isn’t a matter of opinion, but fact. This point was driven home earlier this year by Illinois State Senate President Don Harmon, who pointed to independent economic analysis that found Exelon’s plants were economically viable and didn’t need public welfare to survive. “Independent market monitors believe these plants can be profitable,” Harmon said in a statement, directly contradicting the narrative Exelon has repeatedly foisted on lawmakers and the public.

Second, consider Exelon’s recent track record. The company was fined $200 million last year over bribery and corruption charges and is currently under a deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government. As if that weren’t enough of a stain on the company’s character, Illinois regulators are in the process of investigating whether Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) – a subsidiary of Exelon – charged its customers for any costs associated with this bribery scandal. The Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) voted unanimously to launch the investigation following a staff report that recommended looking into whether ComEd saddled customers with costs “not properly recoverable.”

These actions reveal at least one instance of proven corruption and potentially a scheme to make customers pay for the bribery scandal. Should federal or state officials really hand more public dollars to Exelon? Exelon thinks so, which is why the company was seeking a bailout at the state level in Illinois and worked feverishly to gather allies at the local level to give its cause a homegrown flavor.

Exelon’s poor-mouthing might fool some, but the company’s story simply doesn’t hold up to the light of truth. Its nuclear plants aren’t struggling to stay alive. They’re profitable and independent analysis shows it. Those plants don’t need $6 billion in new federal subsidies or this bailout at the state level funded by the hardworking families and businesses of Illinois.

Even if the plants did need financial assistance, should lawmakers really hand over vast sums of public dollars to a company that has engaged chronically in crony capitalism and corruption and which is now under a deferred prosecution agreement with the federal government? Of course not

It's disheartening to see our state handing away hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to a known dubious actor and to see our federal lawmakers considering to follow suit. Many Illinoisans are infuriated over the giveaway of their tax dollars to energy plants already flush with cash, and rightfully so. Both the lawmakers and Exelon should be held accountable for this shakedown.

Michael Patrick Flanagan is a former U.S. Congressman who represented Illinois’ 5th District.