Emerson talks to local co-op workers in new role

Sunday, May 26, 2013
JILL BOCK - Standard-Democrat Jo Ann Emerson with Sean Vanslyke, CEO of the SEMO Electric Cooperative in Sikeston, Friday, May 24, 2013.

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri's former congressional representative, Jo Ann Emerson, made her first local public appearance in a new role Friday when she hosted a town-hall style meeting with employees of SEMO Electric Cooperative.

Emerson resigned from Congress in January after more than 16 years in office to head the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, where she now serves as CEO.

Speaking on Friday to about 40 employees of the cooperative before heading into the field with workers to see the progress of an ongoing project, Emerson reflected on her decision to leave the U.S. House of Representatives and detailed her activities during the last few months.

"This is the first time I've actually talked to folks from my congressional district," she said, "and I want you all to know how difficult it was to leave that job. But this is the only job I ever would have left it for because I truly believe that you and the employees in the eight other cooperatives in the district have inspired me just because of the selfless work that you do."

A special election will be June 4, when voters will choose her replacement.

As CEO of the NRECA, Emerson said she has been on the road for the majority of the time -- visiting cooperatives in multiple states throughout the country and seeing the various methods regions use to produce electricity.

While in Vermont, Emerson said, she met with "green-minded" cooperative members, and talked about how electricity is produced there, in the cleanest manner possible, and its difference from Missouri, which creates most of its power by burning coal.

As CEO, Emerson said, she is still learning how to best approach supporting the different methods, especially when as a congressional representative she was a vocal advocate for reducing regulations on electricity production set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

One employee asked Emerson about the use of nuclear reactors for electricity production. She responded that she has seen more nuclear-based production in the southeastern region of the country, particularly in Georgia. Missouri was among states that recently applied for a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to manufacture small modular nuclear reactors, but was not chosen. Emerson said despite the department's decision, she still believes the idea has traction and could eventually become reality.

When asked about goals of the organization, Emerson said her top priorities are to build better communication inside and outside the association to ensure cooperatives can continue to compete with private electricity producers.

"We need to tell our story better," she said.

The association is not-for-profit and represents about 900 cooperatives and public power districts nationwide.

Sean Vanslyke, CEO and general manager of SEMO Electric Cooperative, said Emerson has been instrumental so far in bettering the organization. One feat, he said, is that she helped negotiate a health insurance coverage provider change for NRECA members. The switch is expected to provide better access to local hospitals and lower the premiums for members' employees by up to 40 percent.

Emerson said while she didn't personally negotiate the new insurance rates, it did happen under her watch. Emerson asked members to contact her directly with changes they feel are needed in the association.

"Remember that we work for you all," she said. "And it's better if those ideas come from bottom up than top down."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1505 S. Main St., Sikeston, Mo.

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