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Federal Grants Could Drive Economic Stability, Cleaner Energy in MO

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency established a safe threshold for sulfur dioxide air concentrations at 75 parts per billion. (Adobe Stock)

Brett Peveto, Missouri News Service

With air quality an ongoing concern in New Madrid County, advocates are encouraging the local electric provider to seek federal funding.

In recent weeks, Gov. Mike Parson vetoed a bill which would have provided an $8.5 million no-interest loan to Magnitude 7 Metals, an aluminum smelter in New Madrid County. It would have provided Magnitude 7 the capital to make Environmental Protection Agency-mandated improvements to address air quality.

The facility is located next to the coal-fired New Madrid Power Plant operated by Associated Electric Cooperative. Air-quality monitoring has shown sulfur dioxide concentrations in the area many times greater than the EPA safe standard.

James Owen, executive director of the nonprofit Renew Missouri, said in light of the loan veto, the electric provider should seek federal funds to invest in clean-energy production.

“One of the fixes can be for the utility company that provides service to these is to get resources from the federal government to invest in clean, cheap energy, to help lower the bills for Magnitude 7 Metals,” Owen suggested.

Both Magnitude 7 and the coal plant emit sulfur dioxide. Owen pointed out federal funds from the Inflation Reduction Act would help improve air quality at the site if the electric co-op would retire the coal plant in favor of a cleaner-energy generation facility.

Advocates said the electric co-op can apply for federal funds through the Energy Department’s PACE program, or the Agriculture Department’s Empowering Rural America grant program, which opens today and accepts letters of interest through Sept. 15.

Owen would like to see co-op member-owners get active in the effort.

“Right now, Missouri has the second-dirtiest rural electric cooperative system in the country behind Texas, both coal reliant,” stressed. “There’s opportunities for them to transition away from those coal sources to clean energy. And I think they need to just hear from their member-owners, the people who are their customers, and encouraging them to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Magnitude 7 Metals is the largest electric consumer in the state, and a major employer in the region with more than 400 jobs at the facility.

Owen argued lowering energy costs would help both Magnitude 7 and average Missourians.

“This is one of the largest fixed costs, and it’s one of the largest variable costs of a household budget, of a business,” Owen explained. “We need to be looking at whatever resources are available to help bring that cost down, because that’s ultimately going to have a positive impact on the rest of the economy.”

He added when people are thinking about transitioning to clean-energy production, they need to look at it as an economic-development opportunity.

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