Senate Bill 190, if passed, could put positive impact on the Missouri Bootheel

Friday, April 14, 2017

NEW MADRID, Mo. – “I would absolutely support SB190 if the amendment for the smelter or steel mill were to be added, absolutely,” Rone said. “If they were to insert it, then I would be in favor because of the 500 to 600 jobs it would create down in the boot heel.”

Senate Bill 190 (SB 190) seeks to provide the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) new options to rehabilitate the state’s aging electric grid. The bill has already spent several hours on the Senate floor being debated, and now has a new economic development amendment being proposed that could lead to 500-600 jobs being created in the Bootheel.

Rone has long been a critic of investor-owned utilities and an opponent of legislation to upgrade utility infrastructure, says if the provision that allows the Public Service Commission to set an economic development rate for the state’s largest consumers is added that it would change his position on the bill.

The Noranda smelter was shut down after an electrical accident last year. Now, with a new owner at the helm, Magnitude 7, has told local leaders they were interested in reopening the plant, and has hired some employees back in the last few months to work on the rod mill currently operating at the plant.

The new owners won a bidding war against several other companies who were looking to permanently close the plant and sell its equipment for scrap.

Mark Sutherland, the vice president of Market Strategies at Missouri Partnership, commented that he was glad that the legislature was focused on economic development.

“It’s a highly competitive business atmosphere, and anything that makes us more attractive is good,” Sutherland said. “We want to make the choice of Missouri as easy a choice as possible. When a company makes a decision to go anywhere, it’s always a heavily weighed decision”

Utility legislation has been particularly contentious for nearly a decade, and, this session, the filibustering over SB190 has spilled over into other legislative fights.

This legislation is a drastically scaled back version from previous proposals and is only able to be enacted after PSC approval. Opponents – most notably Sens. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Gary Romine, R-Ste. Genevieve – have said that the legislation is unnecessary.

The Bootheel has long since struggled economically compared to other portions of the state, seeing a dramatic loss since the smelter was closed. New Madrid City Administrator Richard McGill said whether it was SB 190 or not, that he supported anything that could bring the jobs back.

“Household income dropped almost $7,000 on the average after the loss of Noranda,” and McGill said there’s concern about the longterm effects of that as well. “We’re competing with other states. I can look out the door and see into another state. We’re fully behind the efforts to try and help the new owners of the smelter.”

If the state could get the smelter back, McGill said it would be “monumental.

(Some information for this story available from The Missouri Times.)