A special legislative session called by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens last week ended with seemingly positive results for the southeastern part of the state.
Despite virtual gridlock during the later part of the regular session due to party and chamber infighting, Greitens used the Republican majorities in the legislative and executive branch to push the legislation through, but not all lawmakers were happy.
Lawmakers in both houses were able to agree on a bill to allow the Missouri Public Service Commission the authority to negotiate utility rates from Ameren Missouri to possibly reopen the Noranda aluminum smelter plant.
Passing the legislation may also lead to the construction of a new steel plant, creating 500 jobs in the New Madrid area.
The current incarnation of the bill passed on Friday by a 24 to 5 vote in the Senate and it was sent to the governor
State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, voted in favor of the bill.
Earlier last week, the House passed the bill by a vote of 120 to 17.
Three Republican legislators representing Franklin County, Justin Alferman, Hermann, Nathan Tate, St. Clair, and Kirk Mathews, Pacific, were all in favor of the bill with only Paul Curtman, Union, voting against it.
Curtman said he voted against the bill simply because it didn’t protect Ameren ratepayers, who might be affected if rates are lowered for the industrial companies.
“Section Two of the bill makes it clear that the companies would have a special rate that would definitely be lower than the general rate,” Curtman said. “But then, since the bill states that the utility company won’t lose money by offering the special rate, the bill allows the difference between the two rates to be passed on to the rest of the Ameren ratepayers.”
Curtman proposed an amendment to the bill offering tax credits to ratepayers that was backed by half a dozen other lawmakers.
“The amendment, however, was defeated by a voice vote on the House floor,” Curtman said. “The legislators didn’t want the state to carry the financial burden of this special rate because, as was said on the House floor, ‘We don’t know how much this will cost the state.’ ”
Curtman added he went into the special session expecting to vote yes for the bill because of the potential job creation.
As of now, Curtman feels the prospect of reopening the aluminum smelter may be more of a reality than the construction of a new steel mill, since Missouri is in competition with two other states for a plant location.
“I’m not going to vote for a bill that may very well have families in my district paying for their electricity and the electricity of an international company,” Curtman said. “I hope that in the end, Missouri gets these jobs without a single family having to pay more on their electricity bill. I want these jobs in Missouri. I also want us to do it right and not pass an unknown cost on to families across a third of the state because they happen to be Ameren customers.”
A similar bill proposed during the regular session by State Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, passed the House by a 148 to 2 vote, but the Senate failed to act.
At its peak production, Noranda was the state’s largest consumer of electricity, using more than the entire city of Springfield on a given day.