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COMMENTARY ARCHVES
   

NOVEMBER COMMENTARY
by Stephen Freese


Wearing Many Hats

As I settle into my new role as manager of your association, I have come to realize there is no time to settle in. From day one it has been full steam ahead juggling many different issues and wearing many different hats as I work on behalf of Wisconsin’s electric cooperatives. It’s a good thing I spent some time in the circus to hone those juggling and hat-wearing skills. 

I was on the job just a little over a month when President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their “Clean Power Plan.” This new regulation is designed to reduce CO2 emissions from electric power plants and is one of the most consequential regulations to come out of Washington, D.C., in many years. 

As the first-ever nationwide attempt to reduce CO2 emissions from power plants, it will have significant implications for the delivery of safe, reliable, and affordable electricity. No matter where you stand on global warming, this rule will add substantial cost to the energy we need to power a stronger economy. 

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association estimates the rule will raise co-op consumers’ electric rates on average more than 10 percent by 2020 and more than 17 percent by 2025. It is feared this rule will exacerbate the growing economic gap between rural and urban areas— especially in co-op areas where household income is 12 percent below the national average. 

Rural Wisconsin will be hit especially hard by rising rates. Earlier this fall, I joined co-op members in Washington, D.C., to talk with our members of Congress about this rule and its impacts. We had great conversations with Wisconsin’s delegation in Congress and their staffs and simply asked them to give the states and the courts time to fully examine this complex proposal and the ramifications it will have on safe, reliable, and affordable electricity. 

This summer the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA improperly adopted another rule targeting power plants, by pronouncing the rule appropriate before considering its costs. Unfortunately, the Court ruled too late for energy providers and consumers: Plants were shut down or costs incurred retrofitting them years before the decision was issued. It’s important to remember this as energy consumers, producers, and dozens of state governments ask to hit the “pause” button on compliance with the current regulatory proposal until the courts have resolved the legal issues. 

Another issue we raised with the congressional delegation was the Waters of the Unites States (WOTUS) rule from the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. We no more than arrived back in Wisconsin when the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals granted a nationwide stay against the rule, which could regulate co-op rights-of-way even if they’re simple ditches that receive runoff along roads and only infrequently hold water. Needless expense and red tape would result if federal permits are required for routine electric co-op construction and maintenance and agricultural activity.

Our final issue was co-op endorsement of legislation making permanent the EPA’s nonhazardous regulation of coal ash, protecting beneficial uses like recycling ash in road construction materials to deliver stronger concrete at lower cost.  

Supporting the EPA on one issue and opposing it on two others, this visit to Washington, D.C., exemplified our members applying Cooperative Principle #2—Democratic Member Control—by advocating for policy positions adopted in voting by the broader membership.

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