From Illinois and across the country, electric cooperative leaders converged on Capitol Hill to deliver a message to Congress: The time to act is now.
More than 2,500 Co-op Nation citizens rallied at the 2014 National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) Legislative Conference on behalf of co-op priorities that stretch beyond the partisan political divide that strangles action in Washington, D.C.
The May 4-6 conference provided CEOs, directors and co-op staffers with briefings from NRECA experts to use during meetings with lawmakers.
“People will know that Co-op Nation is here,” NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said at the first conference session May 5 on Capitol Hill. “You do this because you know how important relationships are with your legislators and with your regulatory officials.”
“There has never been a more important time for sharing our concerns with members of Congress,” said Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) President/CEO Duane Noland. “There are so many federal bills and regulations that will impact the cost of electricity, your power bill and reliability of your electric service.”
Noland said that although public opinion of Congress is very low, Illinois’ delegation has been very responsive. “This was the best meeting we’ve had. Everyone gave us time on their schedule, especially Senators Durbin and Kirk. We had a lot to thank them for and a lot to ask, and they all took the time to listen to our concerns.”
The conference came at a fortuitous time. The Senate plans to move ahead on S. 2262, a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill that would enable co-ops to continue to use large electric-resistance water heaters in demand response programs.
In the House, H.R. 2458, the Electrify Africa Act was expected to be debated on the floor in the next few days. NRECA strongly supports the legislation that fits in with the association’s mission of bringing light to developing nations.
The conference agenda included updating the Endangered Species Act, seeking adequate time for comment on upcoming greenhouse gas regulations and demanding greater oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so its policies are consistent and follow established practices.
The most important request was that the public comment period on proposed EPA regulations on existing power plants be extended for at least 120 days. Electric co-op members can make comments of their own by simply going to www.action.coop.
“We’re concerned because the EPA has chosen to write regulations that rely on technology for reducing CO2 emissions that has not been proven at commercial power plants,” said Noland. “Carbon capture and storage methods might look good on paper or in the lab, but unlike Washington, we’re not willing to take the risk with our members electric bills. It could result in a 70 to 80 percent increase in wholesale power costs according to the Department of Energy.”
Getting Congress to move away from squabbles and toward common ground also was the theme of the May 5 keynote address of Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
A member of Hughesville-based Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, Hoyer said he believes members of both political parties can come together on the principles of the “Make It in America” economic competitiveness plan that he has been working on since 2011.
The initiative has direct bearing on the work of co-ops, Hoyer said. It calls for developing a national manufacturing strategy, improving workforce training and promoting technologies and energy, all of which require affordable, reliable electricity.
“That’s a unifying agenda, something on which a broad spectrum of Americans can agree upon,” he said. “There is too much division in America today. The only people who can defeat America, in my view, is America itself, through our division.”
Source: Steven Johnson, Electric Co-op Today