While some federal regulations are on pause, electric cooperatives continue to meet environmental obligations while delivering safe, affordable and reliable power for members.

That was the message at a briefing on regulatory reform during the recent 2018 NRECA Legislative Conference in Washington.

"There are multiple rules, guidance and executive orders from the previous administration that have been pulled back, retooled or slowed down. Now the work continues at those federal agencies to address the regulatory reform priorities," said Janelle Lemen, regulatory director for environmental issues at NRECA.

Lemen said co-ops have "some breathing room on a wide range of initiatives" being revisited at agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of the Interior and Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Panelists said co-ops should spend that time reaching consensus on their preferences for these rules and determining which specific improvements—such as reduced costs and efficient permitting—can be developed that will withstand inevitable legal challenges.

That consensus, for example, is vital as EPA works on a "common-sense, durable and flexible rule" to replace the Clean Power Plan, said co-moderator Dan Chartier, regulatory director for environmental policy at NRECA. EPA plans to propose a replacement by mid-June and finalize it by the end of 2018, he said.

"It's really easy to oppose any regulation," said Chartier. "It's much harder and it's taken a lot more work to come up with a plan that works for everybody."

Co-op expertise will be especially valuable as the administration and federal agencies draft guidance documents, directives and memoranda to finalize new rules, said panelists.

"In order to make these long-term and durable, we have to do more in our public comments, in our analysis with supporting information so that we can help articulate…the real public-policy benefit of these reforms," said Jonathan Gledhill, president of Policy Navigation Group, a consulting firm specializing in science and economic policy. "How can they both increase the economy in rural areas, and how can they provide jobs while still protecting the environment?"

NRECA is advocating reform of several existing regulations:

  • Clean Power Plan: Replacement rule should be cost-effective, achievable and durable, said Chartier.

  • Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS): Revised rule should result in a narrower mandate or leave the pre-2015 rule in place.

  • Coal Combustion Residuals: Replacement rule should be risk-based and provide reasonable time for compliance.

  • Regional Haze Rule: Revised regulations and guidance should ensure state primacy in deciding how to implement their programs.

  • The Endangered Species Act (ESA): Reforms should balance economic growth and species preservation.