Put Consumers First
Electric co-op leaders take the members' case to
Washington, D.C. during annual NRECA Legislative Conference
by Bob McEowen
Ike Skelton visits with a delegation of Missouri electric co-op managers,
employees and directors in Washington, D.C., for the annual NRECA
was for 2 p.m. but at 10 minutes til U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton opened the
door to his Washington, D.C., office and invited a delegation of rural
electric cooperative managers, employees and directors into his office.
"Come on in here,"
he said. "I have a hearing starting at 2. If I'm not there they'll hold
up the hearing waiting for me. Make yourselves at home and I'll be back."
With that Skelton
left, leaving the group of co-op leaders from the Fourth Congressional
District to visit with an aide in his Rayburn Building office. Twenty
minutes later he returned, took his seat behind his desk
and said, "What's up?"
For the next half
hour the congressman gave his undivided attention to these visiting constituents
and listened as members of the group delivered the rural electric co-op
message a message of "consumers first."
The visit to Skelton's
office was just one of several calls Missouri electric co-op leaders made
early in May. In town for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association's
2001 Legislative Conference, 35 co-op employees and directors from Missouri
made contact with every member of Congress representing our state. In
each case they told our elected officials or their staff that as America
considers its energy future the nation can look to cooperatives to fight
Jo Ann Emerson greets Missouri co-op leaders in her Washington, D.C.,
a mighty voice, we will explain to our representatives and senators how
to put consumers first in the legislation being considered right now,"
said Dena Stoner, vice president for government relations at NRECA, the
national association of electric co-ops.
Speaking at a
briefing session for 2,800 conference attendees from 42 states, Stoner
brought co-op leaders up to date on pending legislation and offered a
unified message for America's member-owned electric co-ops.
"You must say
to members of Congress, 'I am a member of an electric cooperative. I and
34 million owners like me am prepared to provide my own energy needs.
I don't need extensive red tape from FERC regulation to make myself give
myself reasonable rates,'" Stoner said.
to bring electric co-ops under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission was one of several topics on the minds of visiting
In recent months
some lawmakers have claimed non-FERC regulated co-ops are part of California's
energy mess. In Washington, co-op leaders responded by pointing out that
co-ops are conspicuously absent from lists of utilities accused of price
Other issues on
the minds of co-op leaders included fairness in tax policy and a move
to repeal the Public Utility Holding Company Act, or PUHCA, which has
protected consumers from monopoly abuse since 1935.
federal laws and regulatory agencies seem a world away from Missouri electric
co-ops, unfortunately, they are not.
manager of Maryville-based United Electric Cooperative, and Harold
Haldiman, a director from Co-Mo Electric in Tipton, visit with Rep.
"It's a political
world," says Gene Dorrel, manager of Maryville based United Electric Cooperative
and chairman of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperative's Legislative
and Government Relations Committee. "You either get involved in politics
or be prepared to live with laws enacted by your adversaries."
And while the
entire history of electric cooperatives is steeped in politics, rarely
has involvement in the process been more important than today, says Dorrel,
who attended this year's conference.
"When you look
at deregulation there is nothing that has come to pass in the last few
years that could have more direct effect on our business," he says.
But unlike other
businesses which take their case to Washington, D.C., co-ops have a different
motivation. "It's all about the members. It always has been," says Jay
Turner, a cattleman from Columbia and president of the Boone Electric
Cooperative board of directors.
Turner, who has
participated in more than a dozen legislative conference trips, reacts
strongly to any comparison to some others who call on Congress.
"It really aggravates
me when someone says we're going there to do 'special interest' work.
It's a bad word. That's a huge chemical company, a big manufacturing company,
the tobacco group," he says. "We're not special interest. We do want some
special attention but the benefits go to all of us."
it is members who benefit when co-op leaders take their consumers-first
message to Washington, Turner says he's willing to take time
away from his farm to make the trip.
executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives,
introduces calls on members of the Missouri delegation to brief U.S.
Sen. Jean Carnahan.
"I feel privileged
to have some input and hopefully some effect, a small voice, for the people
in Boone Electric's area my neighbors, my friends, people I don't
know, but still one family as we are all members of Boone Electric," he
Judging by the
warm reception offered by congressional leaders, it appears our representives
understand that a visit from co-op leaders is a visit from consumers.
Whether the calls on Congress had any effect remains to be seen though,
know if we made a big difference but if we didn't go, and we hadn't tried,
we would know what kind of difference we made," he says. "It would have