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Seeking sensible ag, energy choices

By Dennis Hill

A delegation of electric cooperatives leaders from across the state attended a national legislative conference early this month in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). We visited with our congressional delegation and members of Congress about upcoming agriculture and energy policy choices. Among the topics discussed were these:

Passage of a new Farm Bill: Congress failed to pass a five-year extension of a Farm Bill last year. The Senate did approve a Farm Bill that provided permanent disaster assistance for livestock producers, eliminated direct payments to farmers, improved insurance protection, created a revenue-based safety net and cut $23 billion out of future federal spending, and yet funded conservation and rural development programs. We continue to support passage of a Farm Bill built largely around last year’s Senate version (which did pass the Senate on a bipartisan basis with 67 votes).

Funding for RUS: The Rural Utilities Service (RUS) remains the financing backbone of our nation’s electric cooperatives, as it invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year to renew and build electric facilities. President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget includes proposed restrictions on RUS lending that we oppose. The president’s budget calls for devoting $3 billion of the $4 billion in electric program loan authority to fossil-fuel generation with carbon sequestration, and renewable energy, including peaking plants that operate in conjunction with intermittent sources like wind or solar. The other $1 billion would be available for environmental controls that reduce emissions at power plants. While these are worthy goals, we will suggest RUS lending continue to be driven by the needs of the borrower.  

Prior to the start of the conference, a letter seeking support for RUS was circulated in the House of Representatives. We thank Rep. Kevin Cramer for joining 133 of his colleagues in sending a letter to the House Appropriations Committee to “express our strong support for funding RUS electric loans.” The letter also states that these loans have an extraordinary track record of repayment; in fiscal year 2014, they are expected to contribute more than $130 million to the U.S. Treasury.

Sensible regulation: We will be asking Congress to support legislation that treats coal ash residuals as a nonhazardous waste. The House has approved such legislation in the past, while the Senate continues to pursue legislation. Sen. John Hoeven has been a leading advocate of such legislation, with the introduction of the Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Cramer also support sensible regulation of coal ash residuals.

There are many other issues that come before the Congress each session that affect the price of electricity. That’s why we take part in conferences like these, to seek laws and regulations that help us to deliver reliable and affordable electric power.

Dennis Hill, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan. Comments can be mailed to Dennis Hill, NDAREC, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727 or by email to dhill@ndarec.com.

 

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