Ormet Plight An Emergency

Temporary funding put in place to help the Ormet Corp. transition out of bankruptcy and into new ownership is running out. If the account is emptied, more than 1,000 men and women may lose their jobs at the Hannibal aluminum smelting plant.

Critical to a plan for Wayzata Investment Partners to buy Ormet and keep the plant running is the issue of pricing for electricity. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio was asked this week to take emergency action on the matter.

“The financial distress of a single non-utility company such as Ormet does not rise to the level of an emergency,” the PUCO responded in a ruling signed by all five commissioners.

None of the commissioners lives anywhere near Monroe County. Some may never have even visited the area. Ormet and the families and communities it supports may not seem of great significance to them.

Commissioners may view Ormet’s filing as just one more in an endless series of documents they have to read and decisions they have to make.

They are mistaken.

Here in the Ohio Valley, far from the center of power in Columbus, Ormet’s situation is a real emergency.

For weeks, the clock has been ticking in bankruptcy court, where Ormet was forced to go in part because of electricity prices.

A deal by which Wayzata plans to buy Ormet and bring it out of bankruptcy is contingent on several factors. United Steelworkers union members at the plant already have satisfied one of them by approving a new labor contract.

Another stumbling block is the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which must agree to assume some of the company’s pension costs.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – the PUCO must approve a new electricity contract that allows Ormet to continue operating. It is that issue on which company attorneys sought an emergency PUCO decision.

But commissioners do not believe Ormet’s distress is an emergency.

A trip to the Ohio Valley to talk with some of the more than 1,000 men and women whose livelihoods are on the line might change their minds. So might conversations with school and other local government officials facing their own emergencies if Ormet collapses. An analysis of how many businesses depend on customers who work at Ormet might be persuasive.

This is an emergency.

PUCO commissioners should reconsider their dismissal of Ormet’s request.