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NRECA: more fear mongering about EPA's Clean Power Plan

Laurie Johnson

Posted July 18, 2014 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) is running a deceptive ad campaign trying to undermine first-ever carbon pollution standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under its Clean Power Plan (click here and here). The ad portrays a wholesome American family as an impending victim of terrible economic hardship from higher electricity costs, should EPA’s proposed rule be passed into law.

It is not surprising NRECA would use these scare tactics: every single time protective health standards are proposed, industries who might be inconvenienced by them make the exact same argument (rural cooperatives are non-profits, but the prospect of change is often threatening). But every single time they have been wrong, with a failed prognostication record spanning more than four decades since the Clean Air Act was passed (click herehere, and here).

Claims like NRECA’s don’t come true for a number of reasons. And, in fact, these reasons are already giving EPA’s Clean Power Plan a head start.

Under the Clean Power Plan, the lights won’t go out and electricity prices won’t skyrocket, because: 

  • States will rely heavily upon the cheapest option available to reduce carbon pollution: energy efficiency. Indeed, while EPA projects modest electricity rate increases, consumers’ electricity bills are actually expected to decline as less energy is wasted overall.
  • State and local governments have a long established record of insuring utilities provide their customers with electricity as efficiently, fairly, and affordably as possible.
  • Markets respond to protective programs like the Clean Power Plan with what they do best: innovation and competition.
  • Innovation and competition produce affordable substitutes; at the same time, as production of cleaner alternatives expands, “economies of scale” bring down their costs.
  • Standards are phased in over time, giving markets plenty of time to do their job.

These principles are already in full swing with carbon pollution. Thanks to states already taking early action to reign in carbon pollution, accelerating growth of energy efficiency programs, and heavy deployment of renewable energy in countries like Germany and China (click here and here), meeting the challenge of EPA’s Clean Power Plan is entirely within reach. In fact, wind is now competitive with natural gas and, according to a recent Department of Energy report, solar is rapidly becoming competitive with wind.

Perhaps NRECA should start paying attention to the members it represents, and market trends, rather than big coal: many rural cooperatives are located precisely where the wind blows the hardest and the sun shines the most, and these sources of clean energy will benefit the most from EPA’s Clean Power Plan. And this is reflected in their investments. As Bob Keefe of Environmental Entrepreneurs summarizes: “many rural electric co-ops are working on ways to bring the next phase of electricity -- clean, renewable energy -- to their members, giving farmers and other residents of rural areas the same sort of access to solar, wind and other forms of clean energy as the rest of America. Just look no further than the website of the National Rural Electric Co-operative Association (NRECA) for proof of how rural co-ops are embracing clean energy with success.”

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Comments

Mark HayesJul 18 2014 02:04 PM

Ms. Johnson,

NRECA represents more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives that provide electricity to 42 million consumers. The communities we serve organized these cooperatives because no one else would bring them electricity and economic opportunity. And as you and others have noted, co-ops have been developing wind and community solar farms all across the country and offer energy efficiency programs. Electric co-ops invest in these resources for the benefit of their members and the environment. After all, co-ops are as local as utilities come. We live and work in the communities we serve. That’s why we know our consumers so well and that’s why we’re concerned about the latest EPA regulations.

These unwieldy and arbitrary regulations will disproportionately impact the electric bills of many electric cooperative members. We’re small businesses in small towns. And a lot of the towns we serve already struggle without any additional price increases, particularly the 93 percent of the country’s persistently impoverished counties. Even a little increase can mean a lot when you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, and that’s assuming there is a paycheck.

Underneath the policy debate are people. We launched this ad campaign as one way to look out for our members at the end of the line. They need to know the potential impacts on their communities from the latest proposal out of Washington, DC, and we will continue to work to ensure that environmental rules accomplish the nation’s goals in a fair and affordable manner.

Mark Hayes
Senior Communications Manager, NRECA

Stan ScobieJul 18 2014 07:05 PM

Mr. Hayes,

Saying the same thing over and over doesn't make it true.

Johnson's argument is that consumption will decline as investment in efficiency will increase.

This suggests at worse a wash, and no amount of saying "not true" will be persuasive in the absence of credible argument and evidence.

The proposed regulations are, as you well know, about as mild an approach to the well-documented health and economic threats of global warming being produced by greenhouse gasses as is possible.

Stanley R Scobie, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, PSE Healtyh Energy, Binghamton, NY

JakeJul 20 2014 07:59 AM

The problem here is that the NRDC and other radicals simply don't understand the world outside of California and the Northeast. The NRECA primarily represents "flyover country", and the only time the NRDC pays attention to "flyover country" is when they are doing something "bad".

The NRDC has a disdain for anyone who does not conform to their ideal, which is everyone living in dense urban areas except farmers. And then those farmers living outside urban areas must adhere to "organic", "local", and "sustainable" farming techniques. Anyone who does not conform to this way of life is bad.

Personally, if I were the NRECA, I would not take the NRDC seriously.

Laurie JohnsonJul 21 2014 06:11 PM

Jake and Mark,

Thank you for your comments.

America’s electric cooperatives have achieved great success in bringing affordable electricity to rural communities, and NRDC agrees that the needs of low-income communities must continue to receive priority as we move away from a carbon intensive economy.

For more than three decades we have been engaged with the Northwest Energy Coalition (http://www.nwenergy.org/) (we were among the co-founders), which includes low-income energy services among its principal priorities.

We also are long-time supporters of low-income energy services in California, most recently submitting comments in support of a statewide Energy Savings Assistance Program [http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/Low+Income/liee.htm].

Finally, it’s important to remember that the Clean Power Plan will result in significant improvements in energy efficiency—because it is the cheapest compliance mechanism. EPA projects an 8% drop in electricity bills because homes and business will be wasting less energy. People everywhere will save money on their electricity bills.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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