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Missouri lawmakers set quick plan to move aluminum plant bill to Greitens

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in front of the Capitol during a rally in support of the Noranda bill on Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
File photo | Krissy Lane | St. Louis Public Radio
Gov. Eric Greitens speaks in front of the Capitol during a rally in support of the Noranda bill on Tuesday.

The Missouri House expects to send the Senate a bill Wednesday that would reopen a shuttered aluminum plant in the Bootheel region — long known as Noranda — and build a new steel plant next door.

What the Senate will do remains to be seen, considering at least one Republican is using the special session to again harangue fellow GOPer Gov. Eric Greitens for his agenda-pushing nonprofit.

Greitens hosted a “Storm the Capitol” rally Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the building — while House lawmakers held hearings inside — to advocate for the bill, which would give the state’s Public Service Commission power to negotiate with Ameren Missouri for lower utility rates for both plants.

Greitens, who called lawmakers back, said the measure will make way for about 500 jobs near New Madrid. He also took aim at senators who didn’t pass the bill during the regular session, saying he was done listening to their excuses.

"They are upset that we brought them back here to do their job because they'd been used to being able to talk out the clock and go home and the people of Missouri were supposed to just take it,” he said after leading rally attendees into the Capitol. “We were supposed to just take it as hundreds of jobs left for Pennsylvania or New York. Well, we're not going to take it anymore."

A total of seven bills regarding the Noranda plant have been filed — four in the House and three in the Senate. 

Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, filed the primary House bill; the shuttered plant is his district. That bill made it through two committees Tuesday and will go in front of the full House Wednesday.

Rone said during one of the committee hearings that the project’s backers have almost everything they need: “They’ve got their financing, they’re ready to go … all we have to do is get them their foundation to build, and that is an affordable power rate,” he said.

Rone also cited the plant’s location along Interstate 55 and near the junctions of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers as being a prime transportation hub for the plants’ finished products.

Credit File photo | Tim Bommel | House Communications
Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville

Some Democrats voiced concerns that Ameren could raise utility rates on residential customers, similar to what Republican Sen. Doug Libla of Poplar Bluff has said.

Rep. Tracy McCreery of Olivette cited a similar bill to reopen Noranda from 2015 that she said would have increased residential utility bills by an extra $5.45 a month.

“I have a lot of citizens (in my district) on fixed incomes,” she said. “Some of these senior citizens bought their houses back in the 1960s for $30,000. Now their houses are worth a lot more ... but they’re on a fixed income.”

Rone insisted his bill would not cause residential utility bills to rise, saying the new smelting plant would be more energy efficient and not use as much electricity.

The difference between the House and the Senate bills is a deadline. The House doesn’t put a limit on the eased electric rates, while the Senate’s bills require that the lower rates expire in 10 years or on Dec. 31, 2027, “whichever occurs first.” That includes one co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Gary Romine of Farmington and Libla.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph is using the special session to again call attention to Greitens’ nonprofit, A New Missouri, which is actively promoting Rone’s bill and targeted Libla over the weekend in robocalls and advertisements.

The nonprofit can collect donations of any size and doesn’t have to disclose its donors. It also paid for the buses that will transport people to Tuesday afternoon’s rally, according to Austin Chambers, Greitens’ senior advisor, who is on the nonprofit's payroll.

Greitens said Monday during a talk show interview that his nonprofit’s accumulation of  so-called “dark money” is akin to not revealing who one votes for, saying: “nobody calls that dark voting.”

The timeline of the special session isn’t entirely clear. The Senate is set to meet Thursday, and, if they have no objections to the House’s proposal, could send the bill to Greitens that day. If not, the special session would likely stretch into a second week.

Plus, Greitens told the rally, this week’s special session likely won’t be the last.

“We’re keeping options for special sessions on the table throughout the summer. The people of the state of Missouri demand that their leaders do work and this is just the first step in our fight to make sure that they do their job on behalf of the people of the state of Missouri,” he said.

Jo Mannies and Krissy Lane contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.