Bill to help AmerenUE build second nuclear power plan hits opposition from Jetton, Crowell

Thursday, April 9, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Electricity consumers across Missouri are receiving phone calls and fliers suggesting they should be wary of legislation designed to help AmerenUE build a second nuclear power plant.

They're coming from former Republican House speaker and Southeast Missouri native Rod Jetton, who left office three months ago and now is a political consultant helping coordinate the opposition to the issue.

Jetton's firm has formed Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates to help New Madrid-based Noranda Aluminum Inc. fight legislation desired by St. Louis-based AmerenUE.

A bill pending in the Senate would let utilities charge customers for the financing costs of new renewable-energy and reduced-emission power plants while the facilities are under construction. A 1976 voter-approved law currently requires utilities to wait until the plants start producing electricity before billing customers.

Senate battle

Jetton's involvement was the impetus for two senators to accuse each other of acting in line with political consultants during a more than 10-hour debate that ended early Wednesday morning without a vote.

Freshman Sen. Kurt Schaefer wrote many of the provisions in bill. He said one of the measure's most vocal critics, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, objected to the legislation on orders from Jetton, who is also a political consultant for Crowell.

Schaefer, in an exchange with Crowell, said "robo-calls" in his district about the bill were coming from Crowell's campaign office. Schaefer, R-Columbia, later insinuated that Crowell was being insincere in his assertions the bill would cause consumer electric rates to climb.

"Don't act like this is affecting your rates and that's why you're concerned," Schaefer said.

Crowell denied any knowledge of robo-calls. He then accused Schaefer of doing the bidding of political consultants Jeff Roe and David Barklage, who Crowell said "hate Rod Jetton."

Barklage, who also is listed as a lobbyist for AmerenUE, did not immediately return a call left at his Cape Girardeau-based company.

Roe, a Republican political consultant who worked for U.S. Rep. Sam Graves before starting Axiom Strategies, declined to state whether any of his clients are involved in the utility legislation. Roe said Wednesday that senators would be better served to focus on the details of the bill.

"I don't think any political consultants have anything to do with the very serious legislation before the Senate," Roe said.

Opposing the bill

Jetton denied pulling strings to get Crowell to oppose the bill. Jetton said the opposition is related not to the need for a second nuclear plant but how consumers would be billed for it. He said the opposition is organized like a political campaign, trying to increase public awareness.

"We think it's bad; we think it should be changed," Jetton said. "In no way am I trying to cause any elected official trouble or put anyone in a bad light."

Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates has mailed items and set up "tele-town halls" in which people are called and asked to remain on the line for an expert on the bill's provisions. After the presentation, participants can dial-in to ask questions.

"We're not trying to deceive anyone, we're trying to be upfront and honest about it," Jetton said.

Jetton said the new committee's name is included in any phone calls, along with a telephone number registered to the political consulting firm.

A direct mailing piece slotted for a residence in Schaefer's senatorial district features various quotes from media accounts, the names of groups opposing the utility legislation, the phone number for Schaefer's Capitol office and a disclosure that Missourians Against Higher Utility Rates paid for piece.

Utility bill is SB228

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