stakes on Capitol Hill
What a picture! More
than 3,000 co-op members — men and women
from every corner of the country and all walks of life — gathered
in one room preparing for meetings on Capitol Hill. More than 3,000 members
united by a single purpose: urging Congress to protect safe, reliable
and affordable electricity for 40 million Americans.
It was a beautiful
time to be in Washington, D.C. The roses had bloomed and the air was
still cool. But even more beautiful was the sight of true grassroots
democracy thriving, just as the founders intended.
The 2007 Legislative
Conference was hosted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative
Association, and NRECA’s CEO Glenn English told us this year’s
conference was one of the most important lobbying efforts for electric
cooperatives in decades.
From promoting the
continued use of Rural Utilities Service financing, to supporting tax
and loan incentives for renewable energy, to educating members of Congress
on the potential impact of various climate change proposals, the co-ops’ representatives
had a lot of work to do.
The 55 members from
Missouri visited the offices of our entire congressional delegation.
They were glad to see us. They wanted to hear from us because they
know we are the grassroots voice of rural consumers.
Our senior U.S. Senator,
Kit Bond, had just returned from a fact-finding mission to Iraq. With
just five hours sleep over two days, he put everything else on hold
to meet with us. We expected Rep. Ike Skelton to be too busy to see
us since he now chairs the Armed Services Committee and his committee
was working on the Defense budget. Instead, he kept powerful people
waiting while he gave us his undivided attention.
We got to know our
newest senator, Claire McCaskill, a lot better and learned she is
committed to preserving the quality of life in rural Missouri. She
also told us she had signed a letter with Sen. Bond supporting low-cost
hydropower for rural electric co-op members. We had excellent visits
with our urban Congressmen, Reps. Emmanuel Cleaver, Bill Clay, Jr.,
Russ Carnahan and Todd Akin. This year Rep. Roy Blunt, who is House
Minority Floor Leader, heard an update on restoration efforts following
the devastating January ice storm that hit his district in southwest
In addition to wearing
out shoe leather, we took our message to the airwaves. I went on “Agritalk,” a
radio program devoted to rural issues that is broadcast in 16 states.
My conversation with host Mike Adams focused on some of the climate
change proposals being debated in Congress. Some of these proposals,
particularly those that would create a “carbon tax,” could
lead to rate shock for co-op members.
There’s a temptation
in Congress to latch onto a single, easy solution to reducing
carbon emissions, such as energy efficiency or more renewable
energy or drastically raising the cost of electricity to force
conservation. The reality is we need to do a lot of things
if we’re going to reduce carbon.
Missouri is developing
150 megawatts of wind power, and we’re justifiably
proud of this award-winning project. But wind energy is just
a part of the solution. Co-ops have to have reliable baseload generation,
which means we need new power plants that generate electric power
from different fuel sources. Given the surging demand for power, Congress
cannot afford to take coal-fired generation off the table — as
some bills propose to do.
As I said on the
radio and in meetings on Capitol Hill: The key will be for Congress
to devote the resources necessary to research, develop and deploy new
carbon control technologies.
Congress needs to
come up with legislation that all Americans can
rally around, including those of us who live and do business in
rural America. You can be confident the nation’s electric cooperatives will do our part
to help find a legislative solution that won’t put an undue burden
Hart is executive vice president of the Association
of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.