The Chillicothe Gazette: Sen. Rob Portman tours Piketon site, others in southern Ohio

March 28, 2011 | Portman Difference
Newly seated U.S. Sen. Rob Portman toured southern Ohio on Tuesday afternoon in the hopes of promoting economic development and job growth.

In Piketon, he again urged federal approval for a pending $2 billion loan guarantee USEC is awaiting to complete work on its American Centrifuge plant project at the Piketon Department of Energy Site.

"There's a tremendous opportunity here," Portman said while speaking with members of the media at the United Steelworkers Local 689 union hall after a tour at the plant.

On Tuesday, Portman, along with other members of the Ohio delegation, including Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Rep. Jean Schmidt, R-Miami Township; Rep. Steve Austria, R-Beavercreek; and Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, signed a letter sent to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging approval for the loan guarantee.

While elected officials in Columbus and Washington from both sides of the aisle have been pushing for the approval of a loan guarantee seen as essential to completing the construction, Portman said this is the first time the entire Ohio delegation has joined forces to ask for loan guarantee approval.

If approved, the project could create as many as 8,000 construction jobs and an estimated 4,000 permanent jobs in Ohio.

"This project will create an enormous number of jobs at a time when unemployment in Ohio is 9.6 percent and in Pike County, where this project would be located, is at 14.8 percent," the letter said.

Portman expressed frustration the DOE already had granted a loan guarantee to French-owned Areva for a similar project in Idaho.

"This is the only American-owned uranium-enrichment facility," Portman said, adding it was crucial to national security that uranium enrichment be done on U.S. soil by a domestic company.

USW Local 689 President Bobby Graff said the union also wants work on the centrifuge project to move forward soon.

"We want economic growth," Graff said.

Portman and Graff expressed concern that if the loan isn't secured soon, layoffs may resume as the project grinds to a halt. An initial round of layoffs took place after USEC's original loan guarantee application was first rejected, then was required by DOE to be reworked and resubmitted. The review of that resubmitted application is ongoing.

"If we don't get movement soon, we begin to lose the current work force, so we'll lose both workers and skills," Portman said.

Portman said the next step would be to get Congress as a whole to urge movement on the loan guarantee, but hoped he "wouldn't have to do that."

A pair of resolutions are being introduced in Ohio's House and Senate in an effort to provide pressure on the federal government to get the guarantee granted.

In addition to visiting Piketon, Portman also visited with business leaders at Glatfelter and said he was pleased with how the company has managed to maintain its workforce and production since purchasing the former Mead Corp. plant from NewPage in early 2006. Portman said production there had been ramping up in recent months and he expected it to continue in 2011.

Portman also stopped in Highland and Scioto counties Tuesday to meet with business leaders, though he declined to give specifics. He said he met with a CEO interested in investing in Highland County and met with business leaders in Portsmouth about new investments there.