JEFFERSON CITY — Facing almost double-digit unemployment, energy industry officials warned Missouri legislators that more job losses will occur if Congress passes climate-control legislation.
Appearing Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future, energy officials said a cap-and-trade bill that has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives would cause businesses to leave the state. Support of the legislation went largely unheard during the meeting, with the committee's chair, state Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, quickly silencing the lone dissenter.
Missourians currently pay one of the lowest energy rates in the country, largely due to the state's reliance on coal, Public Services Committee Chairman Robert Clayton said.
Diana Vuylsteke, a lawyer representing the energy interests of Missouri's largest corporations, testified that these low rates attract businesses and warned that if rates go up too quickly, the state will begin to lose industry.
If the state already has "cheap rates, why did Chrysler and Ford shut down?" asked Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis.
"That's not relevant," Nolte said.
Green said he was "tired of hearing that argument. We didn't increase rates ... (and those plants) shut down anyway. This is the opportunity I have to voice my frustration."
All witnesses that appeared before the committee said they were worried that the Waxman-Markey bill — also known as cap-and-trade — would increase unemployment and consumer energy rates in Missouri.
Vuylsteke made the point that all environmental costs incurred by energy companies could simply be passed along to consumers.
Jacob Williams, generation development vice president of St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, noted that global steel production in the United States has declined by almost 50 percent during the last 29 years. Over the same period, China has begun to produce 40 percent of global steel, Williams said. He attributed the disparity to the fact China has matched the number of U.S. power plants within five years.
When Green asked if this might be due to differences in the two countries tax policies, he was once again shot down.
Nolte said that energy production is one factor.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Waxman-Markey bill June 26, but the U.S. Senate has yet to consider the legislation.
The Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future will hold its next meeting Nov. 2 in Columbia.