Cooperatives: An exercise in democracy
My parents taught me about the “American Dream.” If you work hard, you can make a better life for you and your family, they said. That notion goes back to the founding of this country. The first Americans used hard work to carve a nation out of the wilderness. In the process, they raised the standard of living for each succeeding generation.
The same can be said for electric cooperatives. Through hard work, rural people built their own electric systems even though many said they would fail.
With the first electric co-ops now celebrating their 75th anniversaries, it positively can be stated that electric co-ops are an essential part of the American free enterprise system.
Like our government, electric co-ops are an exercise in democracy. At the annual meeting, we elect directors who will represent us on the co-op board. While electric co-op membership includes everyone from factory workers to teachers to businesses providing jobs, everyone has just one vote in the selection of directors.
This form of governance is the ideal situation for a rural utility. Imagine if those representing you in Congress were elected not by the people who live in this state but by someone with the resources to buy the most votes. It’s easy to see they would be motivated by their own self-interest.
To be a director at an electric cooperative, you must be a member of the cooperative and believe in the seven cooperative principles. You must live in the service area, use the cooperative’s services and abide by the decisions you make.
The electric co-op directors I have gotten to know over the years take their jobs seriously. They educate themselves on the issues, train to better understand their roles as directors and keep in contact with the members they represent.
When I see a group of directors these days, the first thing they ask about is the status of cap and trade legislation in Washington, D.C. They are greatly concerned about this issue because it has the potential to dramatically increase the rates of every consumer. They see neighbors struggling to make ends meet, and they want to do everything they can to keep the price of electricity affordable. They don’t want a drastic rate increase on their home or business to benefit Wall Street speculators who could make affordable electricity a thing of the past.
The latest news is a setback for rural people. An amendment introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently failed to pass in the U.S. Senate by a 53-47 vote. This amendment would have put the brakes on Environmental Protection Agency regulation of carbon dioxide while allowing Congress to debate legislation without the threat of EPA intervention.
One of the stumbling blocks to its passage was the existing agreement between the auto industry and the administration on vehicle fuel economy standards. There are other bills in the House and Senate, introduced by members of the Missouri congressional delegation, that could pass. These bills, if passed, wouldn’t affect fuel economy standards but would protect electric consumers from EPA intervention.
Electric co-op members have ample opportunity to weigh in on the debate as the Senate is expected to push for passage of an energy bill as early as this month. We will be engaged on any energy bill debate, making sure electric co-op members’ interests are heard. Any measure that adds unnecessary costs with you ultimately footing the bill during these difficult times will face stiff opposition from us.
During your co-op’s annual meeting, and at other events such as the Missouri State Fair and local festivals, you will have the opportunity to learn more about climate change legislation and how it will affect you. I encourage you to pay attention and join in the effort to keep your electric bill affordable through the Our Energy, Our Future campaign. Go to www.ourenergy.coop and get involved now if you haven’t already. Your Missouri congressional representative and Sens. Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill will receive your e-mails.
When the first electric cooperatives were formed, they had two missions. The first was to bring electricity to rural people. The second was to do it at a price people could afford. Neither mission was easy, but rural electric cooperative members worked hard to accomplish both.
Now its our turn to ensure it stays that way for our children and grandchildren who choose to raise their families and work in rural Missouri.
Hart is the executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.