FEDERAL ISSUES UPDATE

Electric co-ops concerned with president’s budget proposal

Every year, the president sends Congress a proposal for funding the government during the upcoming fiscal year, which Congress considers as it weighs its own budget priorities. The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 includes several proposals that threaten to handcuff rural families and businesses. While Congress isn’t required to adopt them, electric co-ops have an obligation to stand up for the interests of their members by alerting our elected leaders of our concerns.

That’s why Missoula Electric Cooperative (MEC) and other co-ops have been vocal in Washington about several areas of the president’s budget that would hurt America’s electric cooperatives and their 42 million members.

Power Marketing Administrations

One of the most troubling budget proposals would directly impact the energy delivery system right here in Montana and across the northwest. Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs) provide clean, low-cost electricity to more than 600 co-ops from federal hydropower projects operated around the country. But the administration has proposed selling off the transmission assets of three PMAs, including the Bonneville Power Administration that supplies and delivers clean, renewable hydropower to the members of MEC. This proposal would jeopardize affordable, reliable power to more than 100 million people served by PMAs across the nation, and have a devastating impact on rural economies. Both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have joined co-ops in speaking out against this proposal.

Rural Economic Development

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program provides loans, grants and guarantees to support economic development and many essential services in rural communities. But the president’s budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Rural Business Service, including the Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant program (REDLG), Rural Cooperative Development Grant and Rural Energy for America programs.

Low-Income Energy Assistance

The Department of Health and Human Services proposes eliminating the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a valuable tool that electric cooperative consumers use to help pay their energy bills in times of severe weather or economic crises. Co-ops have joined others in the power sector each year in asking Congress for robust LIHEAP funding to help those in need pay their home heating and cooling bills. The program has had a strong track record of success since 1981.

Department of Energy Programs

Four Department of Energy (DOE) applied energy research and development (R&D) programs are targeted for a $2.15 billion cut under the president’s budget. Among those, funding for solar energy would be cut from $238 million to $134 million, reducing the potential for future co-op solar R&D projects. Further cuts to DOE cybersecurity programs would reduce electric sector coordination and collaboration with the Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery.

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), summed the budget proposal up this way:

“A healthy rural America can be the rising tide that lifts the nation’s economy and the standard of living in countless communities. Rather than shifting funds away from critical programs that have a record of success, the administration should be working with co-ops and other stakeholders to jump start rural America’s economic engines.”

That’s the message NRECA and its member co-ops, including MEC, are delivering to federal policymakers, and we need your help. Visit our website at www.missoulaelectric.com and join MECroots to become involved in our member grassroots advocacy group today.

Source: NRECA

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