Electric cooperatives’ policy priorities
Electric Cooperatives’ Policy Priorities
By Dan Riedinger
As a member of DS&O, you know that providing safe, affordable and reliable electricity is our top priority 365 days a year. Our employees are dedicated to this mission, whether they work on a line crew or spend most of their time behind a desk. But it might surprise you to know just how much the work we perform in the communities we serve can be greatly affected by what lawmakers and regulators are doing in Washington, D.C. That’s why co-ops all across the country join together in making sure our leaders in Washington know what’s important to co-ops and their members.
We do this, in part, through our membership in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the national service organization that represents the interests of the nation’s more than 900 electric cooperatives on Capitol Hill and before federal agencies. Here are some of the policy priorities for NRECA and America’s electric co-ops in the next couple of years.
Strengthening rural America
Electric cooperatives built and improved the infrastructure to bring electricity to people living in rural America who were being left in the dark and left behind. Today, co-ops provide power to 42 million Americans in 47 states. We know that growing a vibrant rural economy is essential to America’s success and prosperity, and we count on the federal government to help. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has long been a partner in helping co-ops fund a wide variety of activities, including electric infrastructure improvements and expansion of rural economic opportunities. Co-ops will work to further strengthen our relationship with the USDA in 2017 and beyond.
Co-ops also are keenly aware that tens of millions of rural Americans continue to live without access to high-speed internet service. Bridging the digital divide continues to be a critical economic development issue for rural America, and it’s a big priority for co-ops in Washington this year. And a little farther down the road, in 2018, the U.S. Congress is scheduled to produce a new Farm Bill. Co-ops will track this closely to ensure that updates of our nation’s agricultural and rural policies also strengthen rural America.
Avoiding regulatory overreach
Electric cooperatives strongly advocate for public policies that are driven by consumers’ interests and needs—not a “Washington knows best” mentality. Overreaching federal regulations have a significant negative impact on rural America, so co-ops are asking Washington policymakers to revisit a number of federal rules that have hurt rural communities and threatened co-ops’ mission to provide affordable and reliable electricity.
We’re also looking ahead to future rules and actions under major environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Air Act, to ensure that they carefully balance the nation’s environmental and economic goals without imposing undue burdens on rural America.
One of the themes that ran through last year’s presidential campaign is the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure. Electric co-ops have been in the infrastructure development and improvement business for decades and hope to work with leaders in Washington to continue this important progress.
Co-ops continuously improve the cyber and physical security of our systems and have been leaders in developing and using smart grid technologies. Here again, a strong public-private partnership remains essential, particularly in the area of cyber security. Electric cooperatives also support a wide range of research activities to help improve our nation’s future energy infrastructure. The U.S. Department of Energy and other agencies remain key partners in advancing this research, as well.
These are just a handful of examples of co-ops’ major policy priorities over the next couple of years. It is by no means an exhaustive list. But hopefully it demonstrates that America’s electric cooperatives are working just as hard in Washington as we are here at home to keep the electricity flowing and improve the quality of life for our members.