Somewhere I once read a novel about Rome in the pre-America ages.  The author’s description of the diverse people milling in the streets of the then-capitol of the world stayed in my mind. He listed them in a colorful rainbow of ethnic costumes and dress.  While the dress is not as obvious today in Washington DC, I met lots of folks in my recent sojourn up there for my local electric co-op. Ozarks Electric out of Fayetteville, Ark., that were from other places.  Cab drivers hailed from Ethiopia, Nigeria and some other country that I did not even know the name of.  A doctor I met from Argentina, who spoke little English, assured me the trout fishing in his country was wonderful.
The capitol is also crowded with young people on tour.  How fortunate they are to get to see how this country is governed. Most were dressed very respectfully and were well behaved. Their fresh faces and rapid chatter, their frantic text messaging to the less fortunate at home what they just saw or heard was a sight.  The students lined up at the senate office building where the Arkansas group was gathering to meet the state’s delegation of congressmen and senators.
You may know, but there is a Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel close to the capitol where President Grant came in mid to late afternoon to drink with his cronies. When he strolled through the hotel lobby he was always approached by those who knew of his habit to frequent the place. They all wanted favors.  Causing Grant to ask his companions. “What will the lobbyists want today?’
The term lobbyist was born there and the bar is still there also.
Today many groups are lobbyists for either their corporation or cause.  Federal laws prohibit lawmakers from accepting great sums of money, as was the case in the past.  But the chance to meet with your congressman or senator is clearly an opportunity of democracy in action. Each year the first week in May the electric coops from across the U.S. descend on D.C. to seek an audience with their state’s representatives.
The one subject we sought to address this year was the legislation to improve the system so that railroads' captive users could have a hearing board to resolve excess charges on freight.  For the coops that is tied to coal transported into Arkansas for our power plants.  Currently railroads have no such control since they were deregulated — there is a board to supposedly see about it but they are ineffective. Arkansas congressional delegation shares that concern with us.  We need strong railroads but we also need some oversight on the charges when we have no competition for their services.  Sounds  simple? Yes.  Nothing in Washington D.C. is simple.
The second wish was getting approval to build more generation capacity.  America is using more electricity every day.  About 3 percent more per year and as coops we need to be certain we have those needs in place.  The rush to green is fine. But the technology severely trails it.  The only answer to immediate needs must be met—a power plant requires eight years to build. We need to build some immediately.  Further CO2 removal proven innovations are over ten years away. Coal is plentiful and the cheapest fuel we have available. Yes, we have wind but there aren’t enough windmills to even start to help this need.  Besides, on the still days you still need electricity.
All these so-called green things help but they are only an aid. Natural gas as a fuel source would mean your power bills would quadruple at the current prices of natural gas plus the supply is not that super and prices will only increase as energy becomes shorter.
Nuclear is no doubt the best choice.  While the same folks clamoring now for green power once said no nuclear, Europe went ahead. We have good proof how it works with the Entergy plant at Russellville, Ark. But with all the red tape a new nuclear plant would be at least 12 years away—personally I don’t want to sleep in the dark until then.
Let’s be honest. We have to make decisions about our future services today and get going.
Back to DC, we got plenty of words of support and we hoped we did our part to inform our leaders of what we needed back home. I take nothing away from the sincerity of any member of the Arkansas delegation.  They know we represent the consumer, the farmer and the industry and that we want to provide the electricity at the lowest rates to the consumers that elect them.
Congressman Mike Ross had the most interesting things to say about a bipartisan bill he is co-introducing.
#1.  His bill would open the Arctic using the most modern techniques to help this oil shortage. The Alaskan pipeline can deliver 2 million gallons a day.  It now delivers 1 million gallons.  So we have the capacity in place.  The current rigs have not hurt a reindeer or polar bear.  With what we know on how to do even better today we could solve a big part of our oil needs.
#2.  Mike said China, through their Cuba deal, is drilling for oil 50 miles from Florida.  They have none of the safety equipment we have on such rigs against hurricanes. Our laws now say American companies can’t drill closer than a 100 miles from the shore. Who needs the oil in that region more, us or the Chinese?  His bill would solve that.
#3.  Drilling in the Arctic and drilling off our coasts is not popular, but he is not so much worried about price of gas that he expects to go to five bucks a gallon but he’s worried we won’t have enough and all of us will be on rationing.
I applaud Mike’s effort and he has drawn editorial criticism from some Arkansas newspapers. But he is being a realist in a time when folks are maybe looking at blue sky and are ignoring the problems we face here right now.
Conservation is the wise use of natural recourses. Wise use is the key word here.
Your nation’s capitol is a sea of barriers and checkpoints against terrorists. Since 9-11 we have been under siege here and abroad. I felt a little tightening in my throat when each of the politicians said on the start of their message to us, "Let’s remember our men and woman serving in the armed services in our thoughts and prayers."
One representative even encouraged us to take one of those soldier's children fishing. Not a bad idea if I knew one.
I’m proud to be an American and so are the rest of you.  Your capitol looks secure and those folks you sent up there worry about your fears and needs more than you can imagine.
Western novelist Dusty Richards and his wife Pat live on Beaver Lake in northwest Arkansas.  For more information about his books you can email Dusty by visiting and click on 'Contact Us' or call 1-866-532-1960.


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