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CEO DATELINE – Energy groups oppose environmentalist attempt to restrict member dues

April 29, 2021
By Walt Williams

An environmental group is asking federal regulators to restrict the ability of electric utility companies to recover the costs of trade association dues through rates charged to customers, S&P Global Platts reported Wednesday.

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Federal rules already bar utilities from passing on the costs of political activities to ratepayers, including association lobbying. However, in a legal brief filed in March, the Center for Biological Diversity asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reexamine that position to consider whether it is too narrow. A broader interpretation could mean most dues paid to associations would not be recovered.

“It’s time to stop forcing people to support anti-environment trade groups that stand in the way of the urgently needed transition to clean energy,” Howard Crystal, legal director of the CBD’s Energy Justice program, said in a statement. “Millions of dollars are funneled from ratepayers to organizations that pose tremendous threats to the climate and clean energy development.”

Associations that would be affected by the rules change shot back in comments filed with FERC, according to Platts. The Edison Electric Institute noted that an accounting system is already in place that separates association dues used for lobbying from those used for other, non-political activities.

“Accordingly, a rulemaking to explore different accounting treatment for trade association dues is neither necessary nor warranted,” EEI said.

The Nuclear Energy Institute said the petition was “premised on a flawed understanding of how industry associations and their members treat the lobbying-related portion of trade association dues.” The American Gas Association made a similar argument in its comments.

At least one association spoke in favor of the proposed rules change. The Solar Energy Industries Association argued the accounting used by EEI to separate dues for lobbying from dues for other activities was likely too narrow in scope, Platts reported. Also, “there is no indication that EEI’'s allocations have been tested or examined by any interested party or regulatory commission.”

In addition to SEIA, environmental organizations such Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth have voiced support for the proposed rule change.