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Nuke bill dies in final hour of legislative session

Nuke bill dies in final hour of legislative session

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JEFFERSON CITY • A deal to fund a site permit for a second nuclear facility in Callaway County fell apart in the final hour of the legislative session Friday after lawmakers expressed frustration with having no time to read the bill. 

A coalition of utilities, led by Ameren Missouri, want to charge customers $45 million for the cost of obtaining an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A voter approved law from the 1970s bars Missouri utilities from passing the costs of building a nuclear plant along to customers before it starts producing electricity.

Representatives for the utilities met with critics of the plan for several hours Thursday and Friday, finally coming to an agreement just before the legislature was constitutional mandated to adjourn for the year. The compromise came to the Senate floor for debate, but was eventually dropped.

“I’m very disappointed that I have about a half an hour to look over this bill and make a decision,” said state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lees Summit.

All along critics of the plan –- which included some of the state’s largest industrial companies -- said they would support allowing Ameren to charge its customers as long as adequate consumer protections were in place. Those protections included funding for the Office of Public Counsel, a cap on how much the utilities can charge consumers and clawback provisions if the permit is obtained and then sold.

The compromise bill appeared to address those concerns, but state Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, said he was unmoved that the interest groups involved had struck a deal.

“I’m supposed to vote on this bill even if I have no idea what the impact will be on my constituents?” Callahan asked, later adding: “Are special interests in the hallway so arrogant that they think this is a 34-member house that signs off on anything they agree to?"

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, who has been a champion of the site permit funding plan, said while he is disappointed he understands his colleagues’ concerns.

“A year ago I was sitting at home, reading the paper and wondering why any legislator would vote on a bill they didn’t read,” Kehoe said. “We worked hard to get this to them sooner, and while I’d like to see it up for a vote, I understand their concerns."

This is the most important issue facing Missouri right now, Kehoe said, both for the jobs it could eventually create as well as for the energy security it could provide the state. He said he hopes Gov. Jay Nixon, whose staff intervened in the final days of negotiations, would consider calling a special session to get the plan passed.

When asked about the idea of calling a special session, Nixon said the issue was important but probably didn’t warrant calling lawmakers back to the Capitol.

“As I sit here today, that’s not where we’re looking,” he said.

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