Missouri House, Greitens Push Utilities Proposal

Katie Kull/Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A Missouri House committee on Tuesday advanced a proposal that would allow steel-works companies and aluminum smelters to negotiate lower electricity rates just as Gov. Eric Greitens led a rally of about 200 people from across the state urging lawmakers to support it.

The bill is meant to bring jobs to the southeast corner of Missouri surrounding New Madrid that last year lost more than 900 jobs after an aluminum smelter closed. The proposal would allow a new steel mill and a company looking to reopen part of the smelter to negotiate a lower electric rate and a longer contract than is allowed under current law.

House members likely made the bill’s passage easier Tuesday afternoon by scrapping a contentious provision that consumer advocates said would’ve made it easier for investor-owned utilities companies to raise rates for average electric consumers.

That portion of the bill outlined several ways that major utilities companies such as Ameren, Kansas City Power and Light and Empire District Electric Company can get approval for rate changes or compensation.

House Utilities Committee Chairman Rocky Miller said the panel removed the more contentious portion so that it wouldn’t drag down the incentives targeted for the steel mill and aluminum smelter.

“Time is of the essence for those people down in southeast Missouri and we don’t want to do anything to hold them up,” said Miller, a Republican from Osage Beach.

The revised version of the bill is expected to be heard Wednesday out the House floor.

Miller also left open the possibility that his committee still could endorse the other, broader changes to the Public Service Commission’s rate-making authority for electric companies sometime later during the special session.

Some committee members still voiced concern about allowing electric companies to raise rates for average households and small businesses to make up for the lower rate offered to the major manufactures.

Rep. Tracy McCreery, a Democrat from Olivette, said that the rate increases amounted to a tax for residential customers.

“It’s at the expense of all the Ameren ratepayers in Ameren’s footprint,” she said.

Outside the Capitol, Greitens spoke to supporters and slammed legislators for failing to pass the measure during the regular legislative session before the May 12 deadline. The proposal overwhelmingly passed the House, but stalled in the Senate over concerns about whether the bill would lead to rate increases for utilities customers.

“We need to let politicians know that instead of trying to score political points, they should be out trying to win jobs,” Greitens said. “Instead of standing in the way of businesses that want to come to Missouri … they need to stand up and fight for the people of Missouri.”

The governor then led a group of supporters through the Capitol to paste signs on several Senators’ doors reading, “We don’t want welfare. We want to work. Bring back American jobs.”

Many of the people in attendance at the rally rode buses to the Capitol from locations across the state. The bus trip was paid for by a nonprofit run by Greitens’ campaign staff called A New Missouri, said Greitens’ senior adviser Austin Chambers.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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