A contingent of area business leaders flew into Washington, D.C., on Tuesday evening for a series of meetings with legislative leaders to get a status update on the loan guarantee and to ask those leaders to put pressure on the DOE and the Obama Administration to give their approval soon.
There was consensus among the members of the Senate and the House that the loan guarantee will come, but their concern was that if it doesn’t come soon, the new deadline will arrive at which time financial partners Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox can bail out.
The DOE has asked USEC to solve several issues over the last four years to have them consider the application. Among those things was the need to strengthen the company financially, which they did with the addition of Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox. Another was the testing of the centrifuge technology. USEC officials say they’ve met these requirements.
“I think every one of the DOE’s concerns have been addressed,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said. “And the hiccup at the plant a few weeks ago, I think that has been addressed.”
Portman was referring to a circuit breaker issue caused by a power outage.
“We went through this point by point last year when they were concerned about the technology, and I wanted to be sure DOE was talking with USEC. There had been a disconnect for a while,” Portman said. “We believe all the technology questions about the refinements have been answered. Those should all be behind us now.”
Portman also expressed concern over another issue that has turned out to be somewhat of a black cloud hanging over the entire process — the Credit Subsidy Costs, which Portsmouth businessman Jeff Albrecht, who led the delegation, said is subjective. The Credit Subsidy Cost, which has the same meaning as a cost of the loan guarantee, could be higher than USEC might be able to afford, even if given the go-ahead.
The other issues prevalent in the meetings were the need for the ACP for national security reasons, as well as non-proliferation issues, which Obama has expressed an interest in.
The bottom line for the contingent of business leaders as well as Schmidt, Portman, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, is the creation of 4,000 high-paying jobs in southern Ohio and 8,000 jobs across the country.
“He made a promise to these folks and he needs to live up to that promise,” Schmidt said, referring to statements and a letter then-candidate Barack Obama made during his presidential campaign. “This next election isn’t going to be as easy for him — when you look at the voter count in Ohio. Where he really had trouble capturing votes was in the Appalachian region. He had the Obama mystique in the last election. It isn’t going to be there this time because of the reality of unemployment.”
Southern Ohio is suffering from double-digit unemployment.
Schmidt said citizens should conduct a letter-writing and email campaign aimed at Obama, to express the need for the loan guarantee.
Brown made it clear where his motive is.
“Obviously, we’re going to continue to work on this. I’m fighting for the community, not one company,” Brown said. “I have told USEC they have not always made it easy. In 2009, we had to get more money in the loan fund when USEC had testing problems. We had to get $45 million to continue the tests. But when they brought in Toshiba and Babcock & Wilcox the management got much better than it was.”
Brown said he still feels good about the project.
“The administration just wants to make sure the testing has come along and they want to make sure they watch the taxpayer dollars,” Brown said.
Albrecht summed up the day’s activities.
“What we have accomplished today with all the people we have talked to, it seems we’ve learned that perhaps there were problems with technology in the past and maybe DOE has been wise in waiting to make the decision,” Albrecht said. “It seems now what we’ve heard from everyone is that they (USEC) made the improvements to the technology and now it works and now maybe it’s time for DOE to act.”
Scott Schmidt, Andy Glockner Chris Lute, Portsmouth Mayor David Malone, and corporate pilot Mike Chasteen represented the city at the series of meetings.
FRANK LEWIS may be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.