This year’s NRECA Legislative Conference will bring electric cooperatives together online to lobby members of the new Congress on key issues affecting the future of the industry.
The conference, scheduled for April 19-23, will begin with a full day of training sessions as members of NRECA’s government relations team provide tips on effective virtual advocacy strategies for meetings with lawmakers. Those online sessions have become an important lobbying tool during the COVID-19 pandemic, as face-to-face meetings have been largely canceled.
Co-ops, working with their statewide associations and NRECA staff, will spend the rest of the week engaged in virtual advocacy sessions with their House members and senators.
Louis Finkel, NRECA’s senior vice president of government relations, will lead a question-and-answer session April 19 on the association’s legislative priorities. Finkel said the focus will be on three major issues: passage of the
Flexible Financing for Rural America Act, broadband investment in rural communities and comparable tax incentives for energy technology projects.
NRECA estimates that the Flexible Financing for Rural America Act could save co-ops about $10 billion by allowing them to refinance existing Rural Utilities Service loans at current low interest rates without being hit with prepayment penalties. That savings could be crucial to co-ops struggling to recover from economic losses caused by the pandemic.
As Congress and the Biden administration craft a sweeping economic recovery and infrastructure bill for later this year, NRECA is working to ensure that it includes both the RUS refinancing bill and increased funding to deploy broadband in rural areas to help close the digital divide.
And as the administration and Congress tackle climate policy, NRECA wants to ensure that coal-fired power plants are not forced to close prematurely and that not-for-profit co-ops are included in any federal incentive programs that encourage the use of renewable energy.
“Co-ops have a real impact when they reach out and engage with their members of Congress,” Finkel said. “Lawmakers know that co-op consumer-members are their constituents, so when co-ops talk, they listen.”
Co-ops will have access to NRECA’s government relations experts on April 19 during two “GR office hours” sessions that give co-op leaders a chance to ask questions about the key issues or get additional advice on how to virtually advocate their positions to legislators.
NRECA CEO Jim Matheson will welcome co-op leaders that same day, and new NRECA President Chris Christensen will introduce the winner of this year’s NRECA Distinguished Service Award. The honor will go to veteran Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
As past chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley’s leadership was essential to passing the RURAL Act in 2019, Finkel said. The legislation ensured that co-ops retain their tax-exempt status when they accept government grants for disaster recovery, broadband service and other crucial programs.
The senator also was key to the 2019 passage of the SECURE Act, which lowered the premiums that many co-ops pay for federal pension insurance. NRECA estimates that member co-ops will save a total of more than $30 million a year as a result of the legislation.
“Sen. Grassley has been a champion of co-op priorities for 60 years,” Finkel said. “As a member of Butler Country REC, Sen. Grassley knows how important co-ops are to their local communities and he has worked to make co-ops stronger and improve the quality of their members’ lives.”
Co-ops interested in participating in the conference can get registration information through their statewide associations. The registration deadline is April 12, and
schedule information is available on cooperative.com.