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Rural Co-Op Is Chance for Emerson to Solve Issues

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Emerson will leave the House in February to serve as CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. She plans to be on the road next year visiting co-ops.

She calls herself a problem-solver looking for resolutions and likes the fact that the co-ops set and meet goals, something that’s difficult to do in a politically divided Congress.

“For me, the first several years I was in Congress, I thought we got a lot of things done. In recent years, it’s been very frustrating because I didn’t think we got very much done,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I am looking forward to going back to the private sector.”

Emerson plans to be on the road a lot next year, visiting the co-ops represented by the association; she has not yet had time to focus on other issues the group could work on in the 113th Congress.

The renewed interest in climate change in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Emerson said, may revive legislative and regulatory efforts to tax or limit emissions generated by for-profit, nonprofit and local-government-owned utilities. Utilities fought hard against cap-and-trade proposals in the 111th Congress. For power-generating co-ops, the issue was especially crucial because they use coal, a major source of carbon emissions, to produce most of their electricity.

Current association CEO Glenn English also predicted that environmental issues would continue to confront not only the co-ops but also other parts of the energy industry.

“What we’re hopeful of is that we could adopt some kind of a policy that gives us certainty as to what is expected of the electric utility industry and of us in moving forward,” he says. “We’re having our energy policy set on the regulations side that comes more from the courts and from regulators trying to respond to the court or their interpretation of the law.”

English, an Oklahoma Democrat, served in the House until 1994, when he left to join the association as vice president and general manager.

The association has broad and varied interests, according to lobbying reports. This year, the organization followed the Commodity Futures Trade Commission efforts to write exemptions under a 2010 financial law (PL 111-203) for businesses that use derivative financial contracts to hedge business risks. The organization followed legislation to pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases, a contributor to climate change. The association’s portfolio also includes the 2010 health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152), cybersecurity, railroad retirement funds, telecommunications, renewable energy and appropriations for the Agriculture Department’s low-interest loan program for rural utilities.

As disparate as the issues may seem, English says, they reflect the association’s role as an employer of several hundred people, operator of a mutual fund and advocate for the core businesses of its member co-ops. The association also does contract work with the United States Agency for International Development and the World Bank to help rural communities in developing nations bring electricity to their homes.

English says the association’s focus has changed over the years as the needs of its members have changed.

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