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Rural Missouri Magazine

Joining the debate in the Senate

AMEC executive vice president Barry Hart
by Barry Hart

When Sen. Kit Bond asked me to appear before the U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, I wondered if there was some way I could say no. The prospect of being grilled by a key Senate committee is something I look forward to with the same enthusiasm I bring to a flu shot.

But for the past two years, I have been listening to electric co-op members voice their concerns about proposed climate change legislation. What I have heard was a story that needed to be told.

I heard from senior citizens who said a major increase in their electric bills caused by this legislation would force them to choose between food and medicine. I heard from small business owners worried about the impact on their bottom lines. Farmers told me they were concerned the legislation would take away what little profit they could extract from their land and livestock.

Committee Chair Barbara Boxer needed to hear those stories, and if I didn’t tell her, who would?

So, reluctantly, I agreed to travel to Washington, D.C., on Oct. 28 where I joined the debate as the Senate took up its version of a climate change bill. As I took my seat in the crowded room, I wished I could have thanked each and every electric cooperative member who helped me, and the electric cooperatives I represent, gain that seat at the table.

An amazing sight greeted me. Across the room was Sen. Bond. And next to him were more than 30,000 postcards, his share of those sent in by many of those same members I had met at those annual meetings.

It was a stirring sight and it gave me the strength to say what needed to be said.

I told the committee that Missourians were concerned that the legislation they were considering treated them unfairly because it shortchanges Missouri on the carbon emission allowances needed to generate electricity. I told them it would lead to dramatic increases in the price we pay for electricity. And each senator received a copy of a study done by all the state’s utilities that shows rates could go up as much as 77 percent under one scenario.

The main point I was able to get across was that Missouri’s electric co-ops were following federal policy when they built their last baseload power plant 27 years ago. At the time, oil, natural gas and nuclear power options were off the table by federal decree. Coal was the only choice.

Missouri consumers see themselves about to be penalized for following federal policy and making the only choice that would reliably meet members’ needs. That, to me, is one bitter pill to swallow.

After the three days of hearings, the bill was passed out of committee with Sen. Bond and his fellow Republicans boycotting the vote. Because Sen. Boxer did not heed the warning from Missouri’s Sen. Claire McCaskill and 13 other moderate Democrats, who said they can not support a bill that does not protect consumers, the measure was dead on arrival.

Climate legislation will be taken up “some time in the spring,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said on Nov. 17 after tabling the measure. Hopefully, senators will use the time to make changes that will keep electricity affordable for consumers.

Before the hearing ended, I promised that Missouri’s electric cooperatives would work with any Senate committee to help craft a bill that would achieve the twin goals of reducing emissions without harming consumers. We have a responsibility to help them get it right because if they don’t, the EPA has plans to step in and do something without the direction of our elected officials.

In the end, if a climate change bill does not have the support of the people, it is destined for failure.

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

E-mail Barry Hart

 

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Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives

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