It’s time to play offense so co-ops can capitalize on one of the most favorable political climates in recent years, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson told participants at the association’s Legislative Conference.
“We’re not in a defensive posture. We have a chance to pursue things that are good for us,” Matheson said April 24 at the general session of the 44th annual conference. “I ask you to redouble your efforts to make a difference in the quality of life for your members.”
Matheson pointed out that rural America is riding high as it was credited with strong turnout that had a major impact on the 2016 presidential election. “Rural America stood up with a louder voice than before,” he said.
“In a time of uncertainty, it’s all the more important for us to remain at the table, be active participants in the policy environment and assert ourselves as the voice of American consumers.”
More than 2,100 co-op managers, directors and staffers—the biggest turnout in years—packed the Hyatt Regency Washington for the conference.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry addressed the general session with well-received remarks on the strength of electric co-ops and America’s energy future.
Matheson asked co-op leaders to take additional steps with their congressional representatives, including inviting elected officials on tours of their facilities, and to their local and annual meetings.
He said you never know when local cooperative contacts turn into long-term relationships with elected officials such as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Pruitt last week visited the Thomas Hill power plant in Missouri as part of his “Back to Basics” regulatory reduction campaign. The basis for the relationship between co-ops and Pruitt was bred by co-ops in Oklahoma, where they worked with him in his role as the state’s attorney general.
“I didn’t have to explain who we are. He knows who we are from his days back in politics in Oklahoma,” said Matheson, who joined Pruitt and other co-op leaders in Missouri.
Kirk Johnson, NRECA senior vice president, government relations, also said co-ops have a chance to build on victories they scored in 2016, such as the Electrify Africa Act and legislation providing certainty for disposal of coal ash from power plants.
“We’ve been able to get things done in Washington, D.C., even though the storyline was nothing gets done there,” Johnson said. “We’ve accomplished that because we’ve successfully explained that we’re not just in the electricity business; we’re in the quality-of-life business.”
In his remarks to the conference, NRECA President Phil Carson challenged participants to extend their advocacy when they return home. He encouraged them to explain their lobbying efforts to cooperative members and then enlist them in advancing co-op priorities.
“We need to let them know their co-op is looking out for them … that we’ve been here urging lawmakers to do all they can to keep electric bills low and to keep reliability high,” Carson said.
Steven Johnson is a staff writer for NRECA.