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New utility reg chairwoman says big changes not likely

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Public Service Commission Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano began her first day as head of the utility regulatory panel by suggesting that her colleagues conduct themselves like judges.

Argenziano, a former state legislator, took over as chairwoman this morning and Panhandle accountant Benjamin “Steve” Stevens was sworn in as the newest commissioner as the panel prepares to vote on nearly $2 billion in power rate hikes next week.

Argenziano kicked off this morning’s meeting by handing out the code of judicial conduct to the other four members of the PSC in an effort to place more distance between the commissioners and their staff and the utilities they oversee.

She wants all communications placed in writing and entered into the public record in cases pending before the PSC.

The quasi-judicial panel is considering imposing changes to its own ethical standards while awaiting possible legislative changes to how the commission operates regarding communications between the utilities and the PSC.

But Argenziano, a Republican from Dunedin appointed to the PSC by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007, wants broader changes in the way potential commissioners are selected by a committee comprised largely of legislators. Those suggestions are then given to the governor, who makes the final decision.

Argenziano objects to the legislature’s influence on the selections because, she says, House and Senate leaders are dependent on campaign contributions from the utilities.

She wants the panel to become part of the court system and have commissioners appointed by either the Cabinet or the attorney general or a smaller group that would be more accountable to consumers, she said.

But lawmakers are unlikely to cede their power over the PSC, Argenziano admitted.

(more…)

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