Meeting in the Middle

One of the things I’ve most loved about public power since I began working for APPA in early 2001 is the combined perspectives of the more than 2,000 not-for-profit utilities located in 49 states and four territories. Such perspectives represent many very small towns, some large rural areas, and several major metropolitan areas and are, in some ways, a microcosm of the views of the U.S. overall.

I have derived this opinion in part because, every year, APPA undertakes our policy resolutions process. This process is a way for the public power members of APPA to determine, in broad strokes, what our positions are on federal policy matters impacting, or potentially impacting, them. Every utility, joint action agency, and state and regional association member has one vote in the Legislative and Resolutions Committee, where these policy positions are debated, amended, and, ultimately, voted on. The committee meets as part of the annual Legislative Rally, which will be next held virtually, March 1-2, 2021 (and given the new format this year, we’re asking members to confirm their designated voter to the committee by the end of February). Majority rules in the committee, and there are times when a particular utility member (or members) does not agree with the policy outcome, and that member is able to express the utility’s views during the debate.

Once the committee passes a policy resolution it becomes APPA Policy. All resolutions adopted at the Legislative Rally come before the members one last time at the Association Business Meeting, usually held in June. The vote is typically pro forma, however, at that point any member can discuss a resolution or ask for another vote. This process does not typically result in a change to the policy decided in committee. Once a policy is approved by the full membership, it is included in the Codification of Resolutions and used to guide our advocacy in Congress, at federal regulatory agencies, and in court.

The beauty of this process is that it causes our diverse membership to come together to hear from each other on issues of national and regional importance, debate them, and decide what our collective national positions will be. Many issues are non-controversial, but some are the opposite. For those difficult issues, such as policies involving interstate transmission or how to address climate change, we often form task forces prior to the committee vote. The task forces, comprised of diverse groups of members, allow for a smaller group to work through a tough topic and come up with a “straw man” proposal to bring to the Legislative and Resolutions Committee.

In such task forces, serious and robust debate occurs on issues whereby some of our members and their towns could “lose” and others could “win” – meaning, a proposed policy could negatively impact a region of the country or a particular utility while another could benefit. For example, some regions are blessed with certain natural resources well suited to clean power generation while others are not. These are serious issues with real-world implications for small, medium and large communities served by public power utilities and the task force members treat the debate with the utmost attention as they strive to negotiate policy positions for APPA that will balance the needs of the national public power community.

Incredibly, our public power members figure out ways to come together on these difficult issues and do so with decorum and respect. Don’t get me wrong, the debate can be robust, but the ultimate goal is resolution, not dissolution. If the diverse public power utilities across this great nation can come together with respect for each other’s views, no matter if from a predominantly “red” or “blue” community, then I am positive we can do so as a country. It starts with mutual respect for differing views, which leads to constructive communication and results in resolution.