What they’re saying about Crist utility reg panel sweepby Dara Kam | October 1st, 2009
Consumer groups applauded Gov. Charlie Crist’s choice of two outsiders to serve on the Public Service Commission shifting the balance away from a utility-friendly panel for the first time in decades.
Crist ousted PSC Chairman Matthew Carter and Commissioner Katrina McMurrian, both appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and whose terms end Dec. 31, as the panel gets ready to vote on two pending utility rate increases, including a proposed $1.3 billion Florida Power & Light Co. rate hike.
Instead, Crist tapped David Klement, who spent more than three decades as a newspaperman and now serves as director of the Institute for Public Policy and Leadership at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, and Benjamin “Steve” Stevens, an accountant and chief financial officer for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
The regulatory agency has come under fire for allegations of coziness with the industries it oversees as the FPL and Progress Energy Florida rate hearings are underway. Thus far, one PSC staffers has been fired, two more resigned and two have been placed on administrative leave in the aftermath of reports that some of the aides swapped secret BlackBerry messages with an FPL lawyer.
Here’s what consumer advocates had to say about Crist’s selections.
“Many of the decisions made by Public Service Commissioners directly impact the pocketbooks of every Floridian. Yet very few people have the time to pay attention to the PSC’s decisions and far fewer have access to commissioners comparable to industry lobbyist. That’s why it is absolutely critical that the public trust our PSC commissioners to look critically at the industries they regulate and that commissioners are selected who are most likely to protect consumers. Yet, do to recent events many feel that commissioners are in bed with the utilities they regulate and that the lure of post commission employment guides their decisions.” Florida Public Interest Research Group consumer advocate Brad Ashwell.
“On behalf of almost 3 million Florida AARP members, we welcome the appointments of Mr. Klement and Mr. Stevens to this important regulatory body. With the power to decide utilities cases that can – and have – cost Florida consumers billions of dollars in times of economic distress, it is very important that consumers’ interests be given fair consideration by the Commission.
“AARP Florida looks forward to working with these new commissioners to serve Floridians of all generations.” AARP Florida State Director Lori Parham.
Sen. Mike Fasano, who sits on the committee that must confirm Crist’s choices, is a long-time critic of the panel’s utility-friendly decisions who has insisted that Carter and McMurrian be replaced.
“Governor Crist has once again demonstrated that he is committed to the consumer by rebuilding the Public Service commission from the top down. By putting two new faces on the Commission the governor has begun the house cleaning process needed to bring accountability back to the PSC. As the authority whose mission is to the protect the needs of utility consumers this move shows that the time has come to for the Public Service Commission to start anew.”