Group should be balanced or be quiet

I favor rousing debate. Let all contenders bring forth their best arguments. Let each voice take a turn behind the podium.

But I don’t favor being required to pay for my opposition’s time at the microphone.

Like many Coloradoan readers, I live in a rural area, so my electric power comes from the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association (PVREA). I’ve written checks to the cooperative every month for almost 20 years.

But last September, I began wondering what else my dollars have been funding besides watts, particularly because I cannot choose my electric provider.

Last fall, PVREA enclosed a letter with my monthly bill imploring me to communicate with Congress about upcoming climate change legislation. The letter said consumer utility bills should be the lead determinant of congressional action. I like low bills but also believe the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change requires longer-term thinking than grocery purchases and orthodontia bills on this month’s household budget.

Of greater concern to me, why was I funding limited thinking? So in September I wrote to PVREA President Keith Croonquist. I criticized his use of the unique pulpit created by PVREA’s monopoly status to “promote a particular ideology.” I encouraged him to “allow an equal platform for opposing views.”

I received no reply.

I recently received the May 2010 issue of Colorado Country Life (CCL), PVREA’s monthly newsletter to customers. In the Viewpoint column, Kent Singer, executive director of the Colorado Rural Electric Association, opens with “… about climate change: Is it occurring?” and then presents his thesis that “(the Environmental Protection Agency) is simply not the appropriate tool to regulate greenhouse gases …” Three business-reply postcards inserted after the editorial equip customers to “tell members of Congress they must step up to keep EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.”

PVREA should not use customer money to promote one political viewpoint. Here’s why:

If Exxon Mobil chooses to (in the words of The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group) “(underwrite) the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry” and “(funnel) about $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of ideological and advocacy organizations that manufacture uncertainty on the (climate change) issue,” I can choose to drive past their gas stations to the Conoco station down the street. If I happen to own Exxon Mobil stock, I can register my opinion by selling my shares.

But with PVREA, I have no such choice. Unless I’m willing to build my own power station or drop off the grid, I must remain a PVREA customer and continue to write them checks, even though a portion of my money will promote a viewpoint that, in my opinion, cares too little about the world our children will inherit.

I encourage PVREA to either remain neutral in customer-funded communications or grant an equal voice to opposing views.

For CCL’s next Viewpoint column, how about handing the microphone to the Fort Collins Sustainability Group? That organization advocates for a community in which we can thrive, both economically and socially, without compromising the welfare of future generations. They would counterbalance PVREA’s one-sided viewpoint and, best of all, readers would be better informed.

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