Rural Missouri Magazine

High stakes on Capitol Hill

by Barry Hart

by Barry Hart

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 Missouri.

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 on you.

Hart is executive vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives.

E-mail Barry Hart


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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