NRECA Urges Rural Action

As the Trump administration prepares an infrastructure initiative, NRECA wants it to include ideas about how electric cooperative projects can bolster the economy of rural America.

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson

NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.

On March 9, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson went to the White House as part of a coalition working to ensure that rural America remains top of mind for the administration. The coalition met with White House staffers focused on agriculture, infrastructure and energy.

NRECA representatives will meet again this week with White House officials to outline how electric co-op projects benefit their local communities.  

In the current budget climate, regulatory efficiency measures are the most significant policy changes that will support electric cooperatives' projects, Matheson said.

He also underscored the importance of the Rural Utilities Service loan program to ensure that co-ops have access to capital for infrastructure projects at a reasonable cost.

Estimates show that the federal government could earn up to $300 million in annual net revenue from the RUS loan program, according to U.S. budget documents.

"RUS has been in place for 80 years and it makes money for the Treasury—that's something you want to keep," he said. "It's been successful." 

The administration could develop new guidance on permitting and siting projects that would advance co-op infrastructure without taxpayer dollars, he said.

Other regulatory issues that could spur infrastructure development include gaining timely access to federal lands for construction and maintenance of power lines and structures, strengthening the power marketing administrations and modernizing the Endangered Species Act.

Pointing to a natural gas supply bottleneck for Florida electric co-ops, Matheson noted that the administration should consider ways to speed natural gas pipeline development.

"Right now, the permitting timeframes are too long," said Matheson. "There needs to be streamlined permitting and siting."