(ARLINGTON, Va.) — The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) today applauded congressional approval of the fiscal year 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, which includes several key provisions sought by electric co-ops.
“We are grateful to lawmakers for recognizing the importance of programs vital to America’s electric co-ops,” said NRECA Interim CEO Jeffrey Connor. “This bill contains a number of critical funding and policy provisions that will ultimately enable not-for-profit, member-owned electric cooperatives to continue providing 42 million Americans with affordable, safe and reliable electricity.”
NRECA supports funding provisions including:
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): Co-ops maintain roughly half of the nation’s distribution lines, covering about 75 percent of the country’s land mass. “Electric co-ops depend on USDA Rural Utility Service (RUS) programs to help finance affordable electricity generation and distribution and to bring community improvements to rural America,” said Connor. NRECA applauds Congress for funding the RUS Electric Loan Program at a loan level of $5.5 billion, the Guaranteed Underwriter Program at $750 million, and the Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program at $33 million.
NRECA also appreciates new funding to implement energy efficiency improvements through the Rural Energy Savings Program. “Combined, these programs will enhance the economic viability of cooperatives and, more broadly, the communities we serve,” said Connor.
Cooperative Development Program (CDP): The bill funds the U.S. Agency for International Development’s CDP at $11 million in fiscal year 2016. CDP is a competitive grants program that supports cooperative development programs and projects overseas implemented by U.S. cooperative organizations. NRECA International has been a partner in this program for more than 50 years. “The cooperative business model is a proven way to lift communities out of poverty through their own self-reliance,” said Connor. “We are proud to have used this model to bring electricity to millions of people around the world through the CDP.”
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP): Congress designated $3.39 billion for LIHEAP, a program administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help families meet their energy costs. “LIHEAP makes a big difference to people struggling to make ends meet,” said Connor. “Electric co-ops know this first hand, because we serve 93 percent of the country’s persistent poverty counties.”
NRECA supports policy provisions including:
Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA): Electric co-ops applaud the successful inclusion and passage of cybersecurity legislation in the omnibus bill. “This bipartisan legislation enhances and encourages voluntary multi-directional cyber threat information sharing between the federal government and private entities, including electric co-ops,” said Connor. “The bill preserves existing communications channels and will help bolster our national security posture.”
“Cadillac Tax”: America’s electric co-ops provide health insurance benefits to more than 100,000 employees, retirees and their families who will be hurt by this 40-percent excise tax on “high-cost” health plans. “We applaud postponement of this unfair and burdensome tax, which will disproportionally impact rural communities where limited access makes the cost of health care much higher than in urban areas,” said Connor. “No co-op should be penalized for ‘doing the right thing’ by providing quality and affordable health care plans.”
Sage Grouse Protection: Co-ops welcome language to reinforce a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the greater sage grouse as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. “Electric cooperatives across the country have worked to develop conservation plans for various species that will protect wildlife without imposing unnecessary financial burdens on their members,” said Connor.
Hydropower: NRECA is supportive of the Reclamation Safety of Dams provision shielding existing federal hydropower customers from bearing the costs of any potential expansion of reclamation dams for non-hydropower purposes. “The measure ensures that the additional costs of any such expansion will be allocated solely to the beneficiaries of the new construction and not to existing project beneficiaries like current hydro customers,” said Connor.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national service organization that represents the nation’s more than 900 private, not-for-profit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives, which provide service to 42 million people in 47 states.