Rep. Bob Latta has helped amplify the voices of Ohio’s electric cooperatives in Congress, where he stresses the importance of having a wide range of fuel sources to ensure that the lights stay on in rural America, Ohio co-op leaders say.

“Congressman Latta is very supportive of the needs that we’ve outlined to maintain adequate fossil fuel generation to keep power reliable and affordable,” says Patrick O’Loughlin, CEO of Ohio Rural Electric Cooperatives and Buckeye Power. “The congressman understands our need to maintain the facilities we have.”

At a POLITICO event sponsored by NRECA last October, the Republican lawmaker said there are 85,000 manufacturing jobs in his congressional district that depend on reliable power from a broad mix of sources, including nuclear. He serves the 5th Congressional District in northern Ohio, where manufacturers produce things like steel, glass, auto parts and cookies.

“If we don’t have affordable power, the companies can’t compete, but most importantly they can’t provide the jobs for all those people across northern Ohio,” Latta said.

He also spoke about another issue that is important to co-ops throughout the nation: permitting reform.

Co-op leaders have complained that it can take years to get the federal permits they need to improve their systems or invest in innovative new technologies, including clean energy.

Latta, who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, supports efforts to streamline the federal permitting process so that utilities can get quicker approvals from agencies to build new infrastructure.

He also wants to limit how long legal challenges to federal permitting decisions can drag on.

“Today, we need to not only replace our aging infrastructure, but we also need to expand our systems to provide for a growing and electrifying economy to meet the needs of the future,” O’Loughlin says. “We’ve got to get going now. If you hold that up with bureaucracy and red tape, it hurts everyone. Congressman Latta recognizes that that’s a problem that needs to be addressed.”

The 68-year-old congressman, who has been in office since 2007, is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and has used his leadership position to push for high-speed internet service in rural communities.

“Broadband is not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democratic issue, it’s not an independent issue,” Latta said at NRECA’s 2023 Legislative Conference. “It’s everybody’s issue, and that’s why it’s important that we get the job done.”

Latta’s subcommittee oversees the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), which funds the expansion of high-speed internet access. He said he wants to avoid excessive fees and delays in building rural broadband projects.

“We want to make sure we get that done so American families can get reliable internet,” he said at the Legislative Conference. “We have to make sure we get it done in the least expensive manner.”

Marc Armstrong, government affairs director for the Ohio statewide association, said Latta has also worked to improve the accuracy of the maps used by the Federal Communications Commission to determine which rural communities have adequate broadband service. Co-ops that provide broadband service say that the FCC maps have often exaggerated how extensive service actually is in rural areas.

“The congressman has really pushed for more transparency and accuracy on those maps,” Armstrong says. Latta says that co-ops are essential to the communities he serves.

“Electric cooperatives are the crucial link that provide our communities—including manufacturers and farmers—with the power needed to support jobs, produce goods, grow crops and heat and light our homes,” the congressman says. “With Ohio’s Fifth District being home to seven electric cooperatives, I’ll continue working hand-in-hand with them to ensure they have the support needed to provide reliable and affordable power to communities throughout our region.”

Armstrong says Latta is quietly effective, without seeking undue attention.

“There are folks who want to get on TV and be bombastic,” Armstrong says. “He stays away from that. He just wants to work with folks like us who want to get things done. We need more members like Congressman Latta.”