The Farm Bill, Electric Co-ops, and You
by Bob Hance on Monday, June 26, 2023
Many of you are familiar with the Farm Bill and its impact on rural America. It covers a wide range of issues and needs, such as farm-program payments, conservation initiatives, food policy, and rural development. The bill provides mandatory and discretionary funding to help rural residents across all social demographics and regions. It’s an omnibus, sometimes contentious (everyone wants a piece of it), bill that gets reauthorized about every five years and is up for renewal in 2023. It also helps electric cooperatives provide modern grid and broadband technology and services to our customers.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), along with cooperatives across the country, have been hard at work educating current legislators on the impact of the bill. Here are the key pieces that we are championing:
- Electric infrastructure funding through the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS). This will help co-ops upgrade their equipment and will help them meet new clean energy requirements.
- Reauthorization of the USDA’s toolbox of rural development programs for electric cooperatives. Such programs go towards projects like our SMART Park to help bring jobs and economic opportunities to rural areas. In fact, the USDA Rural Development helped fund some of the rail work in our SMART Park to ensure incoming businesses, like Hydro, have proper access to the railroad.
- Continuation of facilitating the development and deployment of rural broadband. While our entire electric service territory has access to fiber, many in our area and nation don’t. As the nation becomes more dependent on highspeed connections to broadband, such as fiber, that dependency could very well mean the difference between a rural community thriving or dying.
- Improving the federal permitting process, which has become a costly and lengthy process for cooperatives. Modernizing the federal environmental review process, specifically for RUS projects, will help speed up infrastructure projects and will be critical as we continue to move towards renewable and carbon-free energy generation sources.
The Farm Bill has historically been bipartisan and is critical to farming and rural communities. It’s something our legislators take very seriously, and it will remain a hot topic over the coming months as the current bill’s expiration date of September 30 approaches.
I encourage you to take the time to educate yourself on the bill. Visit NRECA’s website at electric.coop/issues-and-policy for updates on their Farm Bill advocacy work. I also recommend the American Farm Bureau Federation (fb.org) for information on the bill’s history, expected outlays for farm program spending, and more.