EDITORIAL: Time's up for corporate welfare, Exelon

York Dispatch Editorial Board
A Monday, May 22, 2017 file photo shows cooling towers at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Middletown, Pa. Exelon Corp., the owner of Three Mile Island, site of the United States' worst commercial nuclear power accident, said Monday, May 29, 2017 it will shut down the plant in 2019 without a financial rescue from Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Amazon in New York, Foxconn in Wisconsin and now Exelon in Pennsylvania — hugely profitable corporations just can't suck enough taxpayer cash.

But, finally, a populist wave that's reshaping U.S. politics might send the incessant push for corporate welfare to the trash bin where it belongs. Unfortunately, the shift might come too late for Pennsylvania taxpayers and energy customers. 

Exelon certainly isn't the first to come begging for subsidies from state governments. It's $500 million ask is a near-carbon copy of stunts it recently pulled off in New York and Illinois.

And its script is identical, too:

  • Complain about competition from cheaper natural gas.
  • Hold state and local officials hostage with the threat of plant closures, jobs losses and rate hikes.
  • Demand inclusion on state programs clearly intended for small wind and solar operations. 
  • Report massive profits to shareholders. 

Pennsylvania lawmakers find themselves afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome. They've cozied up to their captors and, as ordered, rolled out a bailout for which every Pennsylvanian will pay — an especially nonsensical outcome in a state Legislature allegedly run by "free market" Republicans.

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Exelon's bailout is among a seemingly non-stop solicitation for finite state resources.

In this case, it's from a company that reported $3.8 billion in profits in 2017 and whose stock this past week reached a 52-week high. Exelon reports all but one of its plants in Pennsylvania are profitable. 

But sure, why not? Everyone else is doing it.

Look west to Wisconsin, where Foxconn pulled off the veritable mother off all state-level corporate welfare schemes. In 2017, it squeezed a whopping $4.5 billion in concessions and tax breaks out of then-Gov. Scott Walker. Even best-case projections meant Wisconsin was paying $346,000 per job created. 

Two years later, Foxconn isn't living up to the hype, Walker has been booted from office and many in Wisconsin want to pull the plug on the whole mess.

Whether the political class wants to admit it, a populist wave has rolled over the U.S., and doesn't look to be pulling back any time soon. 

At least in part, it's what propelled Donald Trump to the White House. It's simultaneously dragging Democrats leftward. And it recently scuttled Amazon's attempt to extort billions out of New York state and New York City.

Frankly, Americans have had enough of the so-called "job-creators" peddling their influence and pitting communities against each other for the privilege of serving them. 

But Exelon officials will say their proposal is different. It's about green jobs and low-carbon energy, they'll claim. It's about the environment, they'll swear.

All this while one of its plants right here in Pennsylvania, Three Mile Island, stands as a monument to the worst nuclear disaster in U.S. history. 

Precisely no one buys the pretense, nor should they, rendering the public relations exercise tiresome and unnecessary. Corporations are in the business of making money. Full stop.

If society and its elected class are so enamored with stemming greenhouse gases then why not pump cash into researching batteries? Inefficient storage remains the greatest barrier to widespread adoption of solar and wind, which don't smash atoms and generate radioactive waste.

Or why not fund more programs aimed at making Pennsylvanians more energy efficient? 

A combination of those two strategies would better serve the long-term goal of combating climate change. 

Cut through the bluster and it's obvious Exelon is just another giant corporation tapping local economic angst to fatten its wallet.

It's a strategy that the Fortune 500 has for years successfully employed throughout the country. But voters are showing they've had enough. 

Sadly, this realization might come too late for Pennsylvania.