Sometimes mixed news is better than no news at all. At least that seemed to be the attitude after Saturday’s meeting between political leaders, Piketon reservation executives and U.S. Senator Rob Portman at The Ohio State University Endeavor Centers in Piketon.
“We brought some good news and some warnings,” Portman told the Daily Times in an exclusive interview. “The good news is that we were able to get into the short term spending bill (Continuing Resolution) enough money to save the jobs. We would have lost 675 jobs at the plant this month, right now, if we hadn’t had a success in changing the direction of the funding.”
Portman didn’t mince words when he told the Times it is an uphill battle.
“We didn’t get any help from the administration to be honest,” Portman said. “But we did get help from the House and the Senate to save these jobs until December. Now we’ve got another fight on our hands in December. That’s what the warning is. We’ve got to come together to figure out a good strategy.”
Portman said the entire Ohio Delegation – Portman, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and U.S. Representatives Brad Wenstrup and Bill Johnson – worked hard for the funding and that has left him with a positive outlook.
“I feel pretty good about December for the funding for the rest of this fiscal year,” Portman said. “That would go from December up until Sept. 30 again.”
The 800 pound gorilla in the room was the discussion of finally getting long term funding.
“How do we get back to more stable funding where we don’t have to have this last minute brinksmanship,” Portman said. “We’re fighting with the administration – we’re gonna keep the jobs – we’re not gonna keep the jobs – We’ve got to just have stable funding so we know the jobs are gonna be there, so the cleanup can be pursued more efficiently.”
Portman said when funding goes up and down, it creates uncertainty, meaning less cleanup at the Decontamination and Decommissioning (D&D) project.
“We’ve got to get the disposal site up and going because the cleanup requires a place to put some of the low level radioactive material and other material,” Portman said. ” We talked about the long term in terms of getting the new centrifuge technology back on the plant.”
The Department of Energy (DOE) pulled the plug on the centrifuge project last year, ending years of testing, bringing the spending of billions of dollars to make the system work to an abrupt halt. Portman again did not mince words when he said that action is – “my beef with (DOE Secretary Ernest) Moniz.”
Local 689 United Steelworkers Union President Herman Potter was positive after the meeting.
“I think it was a good meeting because I think we talked about planning for the future and doing bipartisan things,” Potter said. “I think it was a good positive meeting and it was pretty hopeful actually.”
Several commissioners from communities where Piketon DOE workers reside attended the meeting and seemed to be equally hopeful.
“Rob Portman has always been a very strong supporter of the efforts up here (Piketon),” Scioto County Commissioner Mike Crabtree said. “I feel good about it. I think he’s going to continue to work as he has, but the way the funding takes place it seems like they end up with a problem every year, partly because of the barter, and another thing is the way that with the additional money they’ve been appropriating, the Department of Energy can spend it however they like.”
The project was originally funded by two sources – the sale of uranium on the open market and federal appropriations. But that became a problem with the bottom fell out of the uranium market and the federal funding shrunk.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.