Kentucky Co-Op’s Make Capitol Connection

WASHINGTON, DC – The voice of Kentucky’s electric cooperatives was heard loud and clear in Washington, D.C. in February, when 26 co-op leaders from across the commonwealth met at the U.S. Capitol with all eight members of Kentucky’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell briefed co-op leaders just after his meeting with the Republican Senate caucus concerning the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The Republican senators agreed with McConnell’s contention that the replacement justice for Scalia should be named by the next president, and not President Obama, because the presidential campaign is in full gear, and provides the best reflection of the will of the American people.

Of particular consequence is the fate of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.  Without Scalia’s vote, the high court is split 4-4 on the legality of the unprecedented regulations.

McConnell has filed an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of the State of West Virginia, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) et al.

House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (KY-01), and Representatives Hal Rogers (KY-05), Andy Barr (KY-06), Brett Guthrie (KY-02), and Thomas Massie (KY-04) joined McConnell on the brief.

“This is the latest effort to fight back against the Obama Administration’s War on Coal, and I am proud to lead efforts in filing this brief in support of Kentucky,” McConnell said.  “Our amicus brief makes clear that it is the role of Congress to legislate and the Administration has overstepped its authority by essentially legislating through regulation.”

At KAEC’s Energy Breakfast, Kirk Johnson, NRECA Senior Vice President of Government Relations, updated Kentucky co-op leaders on a possible timeline for the case. The NRECA is one of about 150 petitioners to file briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Johnson explained that while the same basic legal arguments remain against the Clean Power Plan, the new briefs are also fashioned to reflect the judicial philosophies of the judges in the D.C. Circuit.

“If upheld, the Rule would lead to a breathtaking expansion of the agency’s authority,” the petitioners wrote in a joint brief.

“Congress did not intend and could not have imagined such a result when it passed the provision more than 45 years ago. The Rule must be vacated,” the brief concluded.

The legislative fly-in was led by KAEC President & CEO Chris Perry and KAEC Board Chairman David Kimbell of Gibson EMC.

Arguments before the DC Circuit are scheduled for June 2, with any decision likely to be appealed by one side or the other immediately thereafter, Johnson said. At that point, the case is at the mercy of the uncertainty of the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not have Scalia’s replacement in place, and may or may not grant “certiorari,” to agree to hear the appeal.

With the exception of Kentucky’s lone Democrat in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-03), who did not mention the EPA in his remarks to co-op leaders, Kentucky’s congressional delegation is unanimous in its opposition to the Clean Power Plan.

Introduced by Pennyrile Electric Cooperative CEO Greg Grissom, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield was thanked for his years of service to co-ops and his consistent support of co-op issues, especially as Chairman of the House Energy Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Whitfield is retiring in January.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul spoke extensively about illegal EPA regulations, including the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) regulations which he said are another example of the Obama administration redefining words in order to make legislation apply to the administration’s agenda. Sen. Paul encouraged co-op leaders to continue to lead on these issues at home.

During visits with Kentucky’s congressional delegation, KAEC representatives asked them to sign the letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting adequate funding for the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) program. The loan program is an important tool to ensure that members continue to have access to safe, reliable, and at-cost supplies of power from cooperative utilities.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr was among the first to sign.

In his remarks to co-op leaders, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth expressed his disdain for the increased polarization of Congress. Yarmuth  predicted that emerging technologies will continue to disrupt business models the way we know them.

KAEC representatives encouraged lawmakers to appropriate at least level funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as Kentucky sees continued job losses in rural areas of the state to assist our members with paying their bills.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers consistently addresses this funding in his role as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Legislators were also thanked for supporting the “Electrify Africa Act” which recently passed via voice vote and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. This bill helps Africa bring electricity to 50 million people for the very first time. Moreover, the bill  specifically defines coal as a fossil fuel and encourages its use as a fuel source for developing nations.

Co-op leaders asked the delegation to support legislation implementing a state enforcement mechanism for the EPA’s coal combustion residuals rule. Without a state enforcement mechanism, utilities would be left vulnerable to third-party lawsuits that would result from unclear and untimely federal implementation.

Introduced by Mark Stallons, Owen Electic Cooperative CEO, U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie expressed support for Kentucky’s electric cooperatives.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie updated co-op leaders on his efforts as a member of the House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee to curb the Obama administration’s regulatory overreach.

Perhaps the most significant takeaway from the KAEC meetings at the Capitol is that all six Kentucky U.S. representatives and both Kentucky U.S. senators met with us, a reflection of the strength of Kentucky’s electric co-ops as a constituency and a political force.

The legislative fly-in was led by KAEC President & CEO Chris Perry and KAEC Board Chairman David Kimbell of Gibson EMC.