Republican Kentucky congressman blasts Gov. Bevin, Braidy Industries, state deal

Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer appeared on a local television show Monday and criticized Gov. Matt Bevin’s relationship with Braidy Industries, the northeast Kentucky aluminum mill getting an unusual $15 million state investment.

The company announced Monday that it will partner with the Russian aluminum powerhouse Rusal — which was, until recently, under sanctions by the U.S. government — for a possible $200 million investment in Braidy’s proposed $1.68 billion aluminum mill near Ashland.

Bevin has been an avid supporter of Braidy Industries. In 2017, he helped coordinate a $15 million direct investment in the company using state tax dollars, making every Kentuckian a partial owner of the company.

“I don’t like the fact that Gov. Bevin essentially got the legislature to give him a blank check that he gave to Braidy Industries to help capitalize the company,” Comer said during a “Hey Kentucky!” appearance. “That’s something Bernie Sanders wouldn’t even do, use tax dollars for a private investment.”

Gov. Matt Bevin speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony near Ashland for Braidy Industries, a proposed aluminum mill touted as a key player in the diversification of Eastern Kentucky’s economy.

Comer, a former state representative and agriculture commissioner, lost the 2015 gubernatorial bid to Bevin and previously has been a harsh critic. Bevin’s office have not responded to requests for comment on Comer’s remarks.

Comer said the $15 million state investment would have been more acceptable if it were in an established company, like Amazon, but called Braidy “a start-up that has a long way to go.”

Jaunique Sealey, Braidy Industry’s executive vice president of business development, sent a statement to the Herald-Leader saying the company has raised a total of $107 million of equity to date, not including the $200 million possible investment from Rusal.

Kentucky’s $15 million investment in Braidy, unanimously approved by the state House and Senate, has increased 250 percent in base value based on the price which the company is now selling its shares, Sealey said.

The company estimates it will pay $35.31 million in taxes to local communities through 2021, and $75.40 million in the state overall, Sealey said.

“Some in Kentucky have chosen to attempt to use Braidy Industries as a political football for their personal agendas,” Sealey said. “In doing so they attack the culture and all future generations of Northeast Kentucky. Braidy Industries and the people of Kentucky have a bright future ahead of them. Yesterday was the beginning — we have more good news on the way.”

Comer, who represents Kentucky’s 1st District, also said he “has a lot of questions” about the company, and “wouldn’t invest my own money in Braidy Industries.”

Following Braidy’s announcement Monday, local officials told the Herald-Leader they were hopeful that Braidy Industries will bring much-need job growth and industry to Boyd, Greenup and surrounding counties.

In Ashland, AK Steel announced it would close its plant by the end of the year — that comes after its 2015 layoff of about 600 workers. CSX also announced that it would lay off more than 100 workers in Greenup County.

Braidy Industries estimates a total economic impact, through construction and its first year of production, of $2.8 billion statewide and $1.54 billion within the six counties adjacent to its plant, Sealey said.

The company also expects to “generate additional employee earnings of $371.6 million in Eastern Kentucky and $793.7 million in the Commonwealth, and approximately 12,000 additional job years in Eastern Kentucky as well as 31,000 incremental job years in the Commonwealth.”

Comer said he hopes “something good happens in Greenup County, I hope we can get some jobs there,” but he remained skeptical.

“It’s not looking real good for this business,” Comer said.

Braidy Industries and Rusal have signed a letter of intent for their partnership, and hope to formalize the agreement later this year.

Rusal’s partial owner, Oleg Deripaska, remains under sanctions and has sued the U.S. government in response.

The U.S. Treasury Department lifed sanctions on Rusal in January, after Deripaska agreed to reduce his holding in Rusal’s parent company EN+, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

Comer said the company’s deal with Rusal was “just another bad headline.”

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Based in Pikeville, Wright joined the Herald-Leader in January 2018 and reports on Eastern Kentucky.