Missouri Gov. Greitens calls special legislative session on Noranda smelting plant

May 19, 2017
Originally published on May 20, 2017 6:25 pm

Updated May 19 with Gov. Eric Greitens' plans to campaign for the legislation  — Missouri lawmakers will return to Jefferson City next week to consider legislation aimed at boosting the chances that the Noranda aluminum smelter plant will reopen and that a new steel plant will be built.

Gov. Eric Greitens is holding four rallies Saturday to promote legislation he says will help both southeast Missouri projects. The session will begin at 4 p.m. Monday.

Greitens' rallies include one at the Noranda site in New Madrid, as well as others in Poplar Bluff, Dexter and Sikeston.

"The people want action, and they want results," the governor said in a statement. "We’re headed to southeast Missouri to fight for these jobs with the people. Together, we’re sending a message to the politicians in Jefferson City: No more excuses. We demand results. We’re encouraging everyone to come out and join us so that we can win these jobs.”

Greitens wants the General Assembly to approve a bill, which died during the last week of the regular session, that would allow the state’s Public Service Commission to negotiate lower utility rates for the two projects. Ameren, which would provide the electrical power, says it has no objections to the idea. the utility previously has argued that lower rates for commercial projects means higher rates for other consumers.

"Some career politicians failed to do their jobs and then went home. That’s wrong," Greitens said in his special-session announcement on Thursday. "We’re cancelling their summer vacations and calling a special session to get this done."

The House voted 148-2 for an amendment by Republican Rep. Don Rone of Portageville that authorizes the PSC to pursue the matter, but the Senate failed to act. 

Rone said other states were seeking to woo the proposed steel plant, proposed to be constructed near New Madrid, in the southeast corner of the state, and that Missouri needed to act fast. In an emotional floor speech, he told lawmakers that the two projects could provide 500 jobs to an area hard hit by the Noranda plant closing last year.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio on Thursday, Rone said he was grateful that Greitens called a special session. He said the aluminum plant and the steel plant could bring hundreds of high-paying jobs to a region of the state that's struggled with poverty.

“For the people of the Bootheel: From Cape Girardeau to Arkansas and from Poplar Bluff to the River, those people now have hope,” Rone said. 

Noranda had been southeast Missouri’s largest source of jobs — at its peak employing about 900 people. It had closed because of the decline in aluminum prices. Noranda also had been the state’s largest consumer of electrical power, needing on a typical day as much power as the entire city of Springfield, according to Ameren.

Some critics of Rone's proposal worry that lowering the electricity rate for some businesses could cause electricity bills to go up elsewhere.

State Sen. Doug Libla, a Republican who represents much of southeast Missouri, says he doesn't object to lower rates for the projects. But Libla contends that Rone's proposal is too broad and would curb the PSC's oversight powers over Ameren and other utilities. Libla also says there are other types of incentives available to attract industry that don't involve utility rates.

“They have attached a lot of anti-consumer legislation to it. So that’s what I’m opposed to," Libla said.

And Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O'Fallon, said while he's heartened by the possibility of more jobs coming to the Bootheel, he wants to make sure Rone's bill doesn't hurt consumers.

“So I want to make sure that before I push the red or green button on Monday or whenever we deal with this that it is going to be the right thing for that part of the state but for all Missourians,” Schroer said.

Rone said his bill also provides the opportunity for Ameren to upgrade its electrical grid. He said that could ultimately cause rates to go down if Ameren is spending less money on fixing faulty equipment. 

Jason Rosenbaum contributed to this report.

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