An Ohio House committee conducted its first hearing into a resolution for an amendment to prohibit foreign ownership of power plants and any other critical infrastructure in the state, such as water treatment facilities or oil and gas pipelines.
“[What we are] fearful of is a foreign government or a foreign interest or a group that doesn’t like us, that wants to attack us, that wants to cause harm, and unfortunately those groups are out there, those countries are out there,” Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, testified in front of the Ohio House Energy And Natural Resources Committee.
“We live in a time that’s a little bit scary,” Callender said. “We’re concerned about one of those groups using a backdoor to get access to some of our critical infrastructure and being able to wreak havoc.”
Callender introduced the resolution earlier this week with his colleague, Rep. Don Manning, R-Middletown. If the resolution passes both chambers of the General Assembly, then the proposal would go on the November 2020 ballot for voters to decide on.
Under the proposal, foreign entities and individuals would not be allowed to have a majority ownership in any of Ohio’s critical infrastructure. Foreign entities and persons would also be prohibited from having access to technical information about infrastructure that is not public, having substantive decision-making capabilities in a company or its technology or having membership or observer rights in the board of directors.
A company could potentially receive a majority of its financing from a foreign bank, but not if the financing mechanism used is a recourse loan that could lead to a foreign entity having control of the company if the loans are defaulted on.
Owners of companies would be required to disclose ownership information to the secretary of state’s office. If the secretary of state finds that a company has foreign ownership, then that company would have one year to divest to bring the foreign ownership down.
The resolution does not specify whether this would apply to companies that are already foreign owned or if it would only apply to companies that would become foreign owned in the future. Callender said that those specifics would be dealt with in the implementation language after its passage.
Manning said that he does not expect less investment in Ohio, but rather he expects more American investment.
“The threats we face today are more diverse and more sophisticated than ever before in our nation’s history,” Manning said. “There are no longer just physical threats as they were during the Cold War; today’s threats are technological and economic. Ohio can and must do more to protect our critical infrastructure from foreign influence and control.”
Callender said that the issue of foreign ownership of critical infrastructure came to light from the debate that arose over H.B. 6, a bill that provided a $1 billion bailout to two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions.
After the bailout was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine, a coalition called Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts formed to reverse the tax subsidies given to those power plants via referendum. One of the companies that supported this referendum effort received substantial funding from a bank owned by the Chinese government, which led H.B. 6 supporters to accuse the effort of being conducted by the Chinese to gain power over Ohio’s electrical grid.
Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts said that those accusations were unfounded and ridiculous; supporters of H.B. 6 never provided direct evidence to link the Chinese to the effort apart from a company getting funding from a Chinese bank, which is common.
The referendum effort missed its deadline for signatures, but the coalition is currently suing for a time extension.