Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Delay Proposes Utility Commission Reform

What do you think of the proposed plan?

DeLay calls for Sweeping Reforms for Commission

Fort Smith – Today, Gunner DeLay, republican candidate for attorney general, said now is the time for the Public Service Commission to undergo a serious overhaul. “This body is not about public service anymore, it is about protecting the interests of the powerful utility companies that have dominated this state for years. If the ratepayers of this state are going to survive, we need to totally re-tool this agency from top to bottom.”

DeLay said he is calling for reform due in large part to the “outrageous behavior” of the Commission in the recent Arkansas Oklahoma Gas (AOG) rate case. “The Commission’s actions in this case clearly show how ‘utility friendly’ this agency has become and simply underscores the need for massive change of the system.”

In the AOG case, public comments were taken from the public at a hearing held in Fort Smith in late November. The public was assured their comments would be made a part of the record, but they were not. The PSC issued its ruling several days before the hearing transcript was filed with the Commission.

A second problem developed after the ruling went into effect. AOG implemented the increased rates prior to the effective date of the Commission’s ruling. The Commission’s order stated that the new rates would go into effect for all “gas consumption on or after December 1, 2005.” A lawsuit was filed in Sebastian County Circuit Court on behalf of several ratepayers that alleged AOG jumped the gun. AOG had charged the higher December rates for gas consumed in November, which it was not legally entitled to do. After the lawsuit was filed against AOG, the PSC --- without notice or even being asked --- changed its order to allow AOG to keep the extra money it had charged residential customers. This action will result in AOG receiving about $500,000.00 more than it was entitled to under the initial PSC order.

A third concern was brought to light when the PSC began filing legal briefs on AOG’s behalf in the Sebastian County litigation. “I don’t think the role of state government is to do free legal work for the very company it is supposed to be regulating and against the very ratepayers it is supposed to be protecting,” DeLay said. “Taxpayer dollars should not be spent supporting a utility’s efforts to take money away from the ratepayers.”

A fourth incident of impropriety came to light when it was discovered that PSC staff had counseled and advised AOG’s attorney about legal strategy in the pending lawsuits, including a lawsuit pending before the PSC itself. The ratepayers obtained several e-mails from the Commission which disclosed an ongoing course of communication between AOG and the PSC. The e-mails discussed strategies of how AOG could win the lawsuits, and also discussed issues pending before the Commission --- issues on which the Commission was supposed to be acting as a neutral judge, not an advocate. DeLay said, “this course of conduct clearly shows that the ratepayers of this state are not playing on a level playing field at the Commission.”

DeLay said he is going to present a reform package to the legislature in 2007, which includes the following five proposals:

1. PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISIONERS MUST BE PUBLICLY ELECTED. Right now the three commissioners are appointed. DeLay said elections are absolutely necessary because the Commission is totally insulated from any accountability. “When you don’t have to face the voters, you can get away with anything, and that is exactly what has been going on.”

2. COMMISIONERS MUST PERSONALLY ATTEND PUBLIC HEARINGS.
If the Commission is required by law to take public comment in an area affected by a rate increase, the commissioners themselves, must attend the hearing . In addition, the comments must be made a part of the record before the Commission makes its final ruling.

3. COMMISIONERS MUST BE SUBJECT TO THE JUDICIAL CODE OF CONDUCT. This will make sure that commissioner avoid conflicts of interest, including improper communications with party litigants.

4. PROHIBIT COMMISION STAFF FROM TAKING A POSITION IN A RATE CASE.
The Commission is a quasi-judicial agency, yet its own staff is allowed to take positions in rate cases. It is clearly difficult for the commissioners to be objective under those circumstances.

5. PROHIBIT COMMISION STAFF AND COMMISIONERS FROM TAKING UTILITY JOBS AFTER THEIR SERVICE.
Both Commission staff and commissioners should be barred from employment with a public utility for two years after they leave the Commission. This will ensure that commissioners are not making decisions based on future prospects for employment.

DeLay commented, “I am 100% committed to defending the ratepayers of this state. I do not think the public has been treated fairly by the Public Service Commission, and I am going to fight the utilities and the Commission with everything I have to implement these much needed changes.”

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, still no comments? What's the "delay"? Ha ha- get it? Delay?

2:50 PM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ahem...

2:56 PM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Execute that punster!

Actually, I think the judicial code of conduct needs to be changed so that judicial candidates can answer questions on how they would have ruled in past cases (like Roe). Sure we elect them, but they have the rules set so that we don't know what we are electing.

5:46 PM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Louisiana elected their PSC. Do we really want to emmulate that?

8:08 AM, May 03, 2006  

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