Mr. and Mrs. Smith go to Washington

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor

Richard Johnstone

The cattle farmer made the trek from Augusta County in the Shenandoah Valley. So did the local banker from Warsaw, on the Northern Neck. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay was the nurseryman from Franktown, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Coming up from Virgilina on the North Carolina border was the lawyer/

mediator. Making a shorter but equally important drive was the business leader from Woodbridge, in Northern Virginia.

These five folks shared more than a common destination in early May; they also share an obvious connection as elected members of the board of directors of their local electric cooperative.

Just as, indeed perhaps more, importantly, they share a keen passion for looking out for the best interests of their fellow cooperative member-consumers. And so these five board members, plus about 60 other men and women representing Virginia’s 13 electric cooperatives, journeyed to Washington, D.C., in early May. There was not a Smith among the Virginia contingent, but all shared the passion for protecting and serving average folks exhibited by Jimmy Stewart’s Senator Jefferson Smith in the classic 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The Virginia folks were among about 3,000 leaders from 47 states, representing the nation’s 900+ electric cooperatives. Our Virginia delegation met with most of the state’s House members, and with Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner, about issues important to the communities we serve, as well as to the Commonwealth, the nation, and indeed the world.

At the center of the discussions was the current debate taking place in Congress over climate change and the various proposals aimed at reducing our nation’s output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Cooperative leaders from across the country asked Congress to recognize electricity as a necessity that needs to be available and reasonably affordable to all Americans, and implored our elected officials not to pass legislation that could dramatically escalate costs and make electric power unaffordable to average Americans.

Your cooperative leaders delivered this strong message, ultimately asking Congress to stand with Main Street, not with Wall Street, as climate change legislation is shaped and considered. We asked members of Congress to develop a simple, affordable, flexible and effective solution to the climate change issue. We asked Congress to set carbon levels that are consistent with the commercial availability of the technologies that will be needed to capture and store carbon, so that it’s not emitted into the atmosphere.

We asked Congress NOT to adopt a so-called “cap and trade” system that would involve the auctioning of “carbon allowances” in a complicated system in which Wall Street speculators and other middle men could set electricity rates by treating these carbon allowances as just another money-making commodity. Such an auction would constitute a tax on every American electric ratepayer, and that tax could add significantly to every American’s monthly electric bill. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has said that under such a “cap and trade” system, the average cooperative member-consumer’s bill could rise by $50 a month. However, given the uncertainties of such an auction, rates could be lower, or even higher.

Which is precisely why your cooperative leaders also asked our members of Congress to support an “economic safety valve” that would limit the price of these carbon allowances, and thus limit the potential increases in consumers’ electric bills.

Also, we asked our members of Congress to work on a solution in partnership with the nation’s 900+ electric cooperatives and the 42 million Americans served by these customer-owned utilities. Electric cooperatives have a rich history of practicing and promoting energy efficiency and conservation, and of being caring environmental stewards. After all, our employees and board members live and work in the communities served by cooperatives.

We care deeply about these communities, and about doing our part to protect them today and improve them for tomorrow. We also care deeply about protecting your pocketbook from unnecessary taxes generated through proposals that have not been well-thought-out or carefully considered.

You can help in this effort to bring common sense to this national debate. A campaign called “Our Energy, Our Future” has been developed by cooperatives across the country, and a special Web site has been set up. Visit www.ourenergy.coop today,  and make your voice heard to your U.S. House and Senate members!


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