Missouri Senate set to take up Noranda bill on Friday; possible steel plant owner | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Senate set to take up Noranda bill on Friday; possible steel plant owner

May 24, 2017

Updated May 25 with the day's actions — The special legislative session called by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is getting closer to the finish line.

A Missouri Senate committee voted 10-1 Thursday to pass a bill designed to reopen an aluminum smelting plant in southeastern Missouri that was operated by Noranda. They made no additions to the bill, which goes before the full Senate on Friday.

If it passes there without changes, it’ll go straight to Greitens. But even one amendment sends the bill back to the House — and the special session may stretch into a second, pricey week.

The bill also allows the Public Service Commission to negotiate with Ameren Missouri for a lower utility rate for that plant and a proposed steel plant nearby.

The identity of the company that would operate the steel facility has been kept a secret. But St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Thursday that Greitens is negotiating with Sumangala Steel, which is based in Chennai, India. Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, the bill's sponsor, declined to confirm the report to St. Louis Public Radio.

House members from both parties added amendments to the bill Wednesday, including allowing other industries that need lots of electricity to also negotiate for lower rates. That idea came from Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

“You could have a car company decide to build the largest new car plant in the world,” he said. “You could have a company with some new product that we’ve never heard of today that wants to come into Missouri 30 years from now.”

His amendment would also require any company seeking a reduced utility rate to prove they need it in order to operate.

Those changes helped win the support of Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, who had expressed concerns that the measure would allow Ameren to raise utility rates on residential customers. Libla is the bill handler in the Senate, and had been the target of online attack ads over the bill by a nonprofit run by Greitens' campaign staffers.

Original story from May 24:

The special legislative session called by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is closer to the finish line.

The House passed on a 120-17 vote Wednesday a bill designed to reopen an aluminum smelting plant in southeastern Missouri that was operated by Noranda. It also allows the Public Service Commission to negotiate with Ameren Missouri for a lower utility rate for that plant and a proposed steel plant nearby.

The measure now goes to the Senate, where if it passes without changes, it’ll go straight to Greitens’ desk. But even one amendment sends the bill back to the House — and the special session may stretch into a second, pricey week.

House members from both parties added amendments to the bill Wednesday, including allowing other industries that need lots of electricity to also negotiate for lower rates. That idea came from Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

“You could have a car company decide to build the largest new car plant in the world,” he said. “You could have a company with some new product that we’ve never heard of today that wants to come into Missouri 30 years from now.”

His amendment would also require any company seeking a reduced utility rate to prove they need it in order to operate.

Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis was able to add language requiring that increasing costs of operating a facility be factored into setting a lower rate, suggesting it would help protect residential customers from rate increases.

“This is just makng sure they’re kind of following the same standards in figuring out a negotiated discounted rate that every other manufacturing company or large employer in our state, (every) large user of energy, would be subject to,” he said.

Several other amendments were turned away, including one that could have jeopardized the entire special session. That change, which was strongly opposed by main bill sponsor GOP Rep. Don Rone of Portageville, would have created a tax credit that customers could use to cover any increases in their power bills resulting from an industry getting a lower utility rate.

“If this amendment passes…and it goes over to the Senate, they’re going to strip it (off),” he said. “Then we’ll be back here next week.”

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport