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Republicans Skeptical Of Bill To Save Aluminum Plant
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At the start of this election year, hundreds of workers who lost their jobs with the shutdown of an aluminum smelting plant in southeast Ohio hope for help from the state.
Thereâ€™s now a bill that might do that, but there are fears there will be long-term and political implications involved.
The closing of the Ormet smelting plant in Hannibal along the Ohio River across from West Virginia came after the company said it was facing bankruptcy, and went to state regulators to ask them to order its electricity rates dramatically reduced.
The Public Utilities Commission ordered lower rates, but not as low as was proposed, so Ormet wanted to cancel its contract with AEP so it could switch to a lower-cost retail option. The situation has energized Democrats who say Gov. John Kasich hasnâ€™t done anything to stop it.
But Kasichâ€™s office has said he doesnâ€™t have the authority to override the Public Utilities Commissionâ€™s decision. Now the lawmaker representing the district where the plant is located, Democratic Rep. Jack Cera, has introduced a bill that would give a governor the power to terminate agreements between some companies and their utility providers.
Kasichâ€™s Democratic opponent this fall says he backs the bill which is clearly aimed at Ormet though it doesnâ€™t mention the company.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald says itâ€™s not a perfect bill and there could be some long-term issues in extending the governor this authority, but he thinks it needs to be seriously considered.
â€œItâ€™s not just for those thousand people. There are a lot of spinoff jobs there in that whole part of Ohio that are really counting on something being saved and salvaged out of that situation,” Fitzgerald said.
Democrats, led by unionized steelworkers, have been blasting Kasich over Ormet, saying that he has yet to speak out about it or to visit the displaced workers. But at least one Republican from the area says heâ€™s very concerned about what happened in Hannibal. The plant used to be in Rep. Andy Thompsonâ€™s district.
Thompson says heâ€™s interested in finding out more about Ceraâ€™s bill, but admits heâ€™s cautious.
â€œIâ€™m a little nervous about procedural changes sometimes because we â€“ with the Controlling Board on the whole Medicaid issue â€“ I want to make sure that we donâ€™t somehow, in an attempt to address one situation, set a precedent that might be problematic elsewhere.â€
Kasich doesnâ€™t typically comment on pending legislation. But his spokesman has suggested that a new request should be filed by Ormet with the Public Utilities Commission to break its contract with AEP, so it can switch to retail choice and buy electricity on the free market.