Steelworkers ask Kasich to intervene in Ormet shutdown
The United Steelworkers union has launched a campaign to press Gov. John Kasich to help restart a closed aluminum plant in southeastern Ohio.
Ormet Corp. in Hannibal shut down its remaining production lines last month after state regulators gave the company only part of its request for an increase in an electricity-rate subsidy. The company, which had more than 1,000 employees, has been hurt in recent years by low aluminum prices and a series of rate increases by American Electric Power.
The steelworkers union, which represents the plant’s workers, started a website, www.saveohiojobs.org, and has put together a video that includes clips of Kasich and of Ormet employees.
The union said the state can’t afford to allow Ormet to be liquidated.
“The impact of another catastrophic job loss will devastate these communities,” said Ken McCall, director of the steelworkers union district that includes Ormet, in a statement.
Ormet’s advocates are upset that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio did not issue a more favorable result. The five-person panel includes four members appointed by Kasich. Others have said it is incorrect to blame Kasich.
“I think it’s a frustrating and sad situation, but it’s unfair to place the burden of that on the governor,” said Dave Celona, an energy consultant who once worked in Gov. Bob Taft’s administration. He said the most relevant question is, “How long can customer money be used to support a business that is failing?”
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the state has taken numerous steps to aid former Ormet workers, including helping them secure unemployment and job-training benefits, as well as helping them explore options for health insurance.
“The governor’s office is open to any suggestions and any ideas they have that can reverse falling aluminum prices and overcome the world market forces working against the industry,” Nichols said. “To date, however, the only thing they’ve proposed is for us to push around the PUCO, which is, under Ohio law, an independent entity. It’s not permissible for us to tell them what to do."
The PUCO had already approved a projected $308 million in electricity discounts, which were to have been paid between 2009 and 2018. The subsidy is financed by other AEP customers, with a typical household paying $2 to $3 per month.
Some of the most adamant opponents of Ormet’s aid were consumer advocates who said that the benefits for this one company were not enough to justify such a high cost for millions of other customers.
Ormet’s case “presents difficult circumstances for all concerned, including utility customers,” said the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel in a recent filing.
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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