WASHINGTON – The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the Rural Utilities Department of the United States Department of Agriculture for failing to release public documents regarding federal loans to power generation and transmission co-ops in Arizona and North Carolina.
The Center first requested the public documents in March 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act, but the agency has not released hundreds of pages which it says respond to the Center’s request. The records could show whether these loans encourage investments in fossil fuels by the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative and the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation and how the program could instead be used to shift these rural electricity providers from coal-fired power plants and gas to renewable energies.
“Billions of dollars are trapped in this outdated federal loan program that is investing heavily in fossil fuels and making the climate emergency worse every day,” said Lauren Parker, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “These public records could shed light on a key opportunity to move from dirty coal and gas to clean, renewable energy. As it stands, millions of people in rural communities are stranded to get their electricity from heavily polluting power plants mired in fossil fuel-based debt. “
Congress established the USDA Rural Utilities Service in 1936 to provide loans and loan guarantees to electric utilities that agreed to serve rural areas. Over the years, the program has prompted rural electricity co-operatives to invest in coal and gas-fired power stations, transmission lines and other infrastructure, and the co-operatives have accumulated substantial debts.
Today, some 700 rural electricity co-operatives provide electricity to 40 million people in 46 states and owe an estimated $ 7 billion in debt, most of which has been invested in electricity produced from fossil fuels. . Advocacy groups and political candidates have offered to forgive the debt of cooperatives that agree to reinvest it in renewable energy and to withdraw old polluting power plants.
In the spring of 2020, the Center filed public document requests with the USDA to obtain loan documents for the Arizona Electric Power Cooperative and the North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, as well as power supply contracts between these. cooperatives and other public services. In Arizona, these utilities include Arizona Public Service Co., Salt River Project, and Tucson Electric Power. The North Carolina cooperative has contracts with, among others, Duke Energy Carolinas, Duke Energy Progress and Dominion Energy North Carolina.
More than a year later, the USDA produced just four pages for the Arizona Co-op and 177 pages for the North Carolina Co-op, although the agency says it has identified more than 1,200 pages of documents. additional.
“Delay is both illegal and unproductive when we are in a race to reduce climate pollution,” Parker said. “If these documents show how we can use the money used to pollute and reinvest it in clean, renewable energy systems, then we should jump on it. The only thing the government gets by keeping these documents is to continue as usual, and that is a death sentence on the planet.