Noranda Support Heard From DC
WASHINGTON, D.C. – United States Congressman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) Friday fired a letter to Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Robert S. Kenney urging a rehearing by state regulators for Noranda Aluminum in its feud with power provider Ameren Missouri. The aluminum smelter offers employment to approximately 900 southeast Missouri workers.
Up to 200 employees from its administration to labor sectors might be laid off during the next six months if a competitive power rate is not secured by Noranda, said President and Chief Executive Officer Layle K. “Kip” Smith. In addition, the plant might be forced to scale back its $45 million investment in a rod mill and seek locations in neighboring states to continue the project, Smith said.
Smith said a Non-unanimous Stipulation and Agreement filed in August was not considered by the PSC when it handed down a decision denying Noranda’s appeal for decreased power costs. The request was filed by Noranda and “37 individual customers of Ameren Missouri, the Office of Public Counsel (OPC), the Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers, the Missouri Retailers Association, and the Consumers Council of Missouri,” Smith’s letter stated.
The congressman’s letter continued, stating the OPC’s “application should be granted so the stipulation can be considered.”
Despite the stipulation being filed “rather late in the process” Smith noted the Commission’s rules provide for “the parties may at any time file a stipulation and agreement” as a proposed resolution of all or any part of a contested case.
“The uncertainty surrounding the outcome of this case and the future of Noranda Aluminum is causing concern and even panic throughout my Congressional district,” Smith wrote. Smith was elected Eighth Congressional District representative last year in a special election.
The district includes all of SEMO TIMES’ distribution area, and such cities as Rolla, West Plains and Festus. Smith pointed out that Noranda pays nearly 18 percent of New Madrid County’s property taxes, and nearly 29 percent of taxes collected to support New Madrid County Central R-1 School District.
“I urge this commission to do everything within its power to facilitate a resolution in this matter tat will allow Noranda to keep the lights on, not only at its own facilities but also at the homes of its employees, the school buildings and other county services that Noranda supports,” the congressman wrote.
In addition to Smith’s missive, United Steelworker’s International President Leo W. Gerard this week contacted the PSC on behalf of the organization’s 1.2 million members and retirees urging the commission to decrease the electricity rate at the plant.
That decrease are projected to save Noranda approximately $30 million in the first 12 months and increase household rates by about 90 cents. Ameren has increased rates 43 percent statewide since 2008, records indicate.
Also, the utility lobbied the commission for an additional increase in rates that records show would cost consumers an additional $10 on their monthly bills. Gerard wrote a compromise would aid in the prevention of further erosion “of good-paying manufacturing jobs” in Missouri.
“The United Steelworkers are bullish on thr future of the aluminum industry,” Gerard wrote. “The New Madrid plant’s short-term survival and long-term viability is tied directly to the cost Noranda pays for electricity.”
Records indicate Noranda pays about $160 million annually for electricity. The rehearing is supported by a number of elected officials, including Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, state Sen. Doug Libla, former state Rep. Terry Swinger and state Rep. Steve Hodges.
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