May 10, 2012
By Michael Coleman
From the Albuquerque Journal
WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve Pearce, a New Mexico Republican, and Rep. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, don’t agree on much, but they teamed up this week to try to block federal subsidies to a uranium enrichment plant in Kentucky.
The congressmen wrote a letter to House leaders negotiating details of a transportation bill and asked them to reject a Senate proposal to include in the legislation $150 million in federal subsidies to the United States Enrichment Corp. Pearce, who represents southern New Mexico, told the Journal that the subsidies would give USEC, based in Paducah, Ky., an unfair advantage over a similar firm in New Mexico.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who ran as a champion of the fiscally conservative tea party, is among the biggest backers of the federal subsidy for USEC, arguing that about 1,400 jobs are at stake. Pearce called the Kentucky firm a “great big black hole where taxpayer dollars have been disappearing.”
Louisiana Energy Services, a multinational consortium operating in Lea County near Eunice, enriches uranium for commercial nuclear power plants to be used as fuel. Pearce noted that the company – commonly called LES – hasn’t received any taxpayer money and said the company’s future investment decisions will hinge on the congressional approval of the USEC subsidy.
“They have said they’re not going to invest much more until the U.S. government says it’s not going to keep pouring money into a (competitor),” Pearce said. “Since it involves taxpayer-guaranteed loans, they have to worry about what it will do to the market.”
Clint Williamson, vice president for government affairs at LES, confirmed Pearce’s contention.
“This summer, our board will make a decision on whether to invest an additional $1 billion, on top of the $3 billion already invested in Lea County,” Williamson told the Journal. “They (the LES board) will be taking into account the unrelenting, multimillion-dollar U.S. government giveaways to USEC.”
“USEC has shown a consistent inability to meet the financial and technological challenges it faces,” the Pearce-Markey letter said. “The pattern of failure and continued taxpayer funding defies logic.”
USEC officials could not be reached for comment.