H.4414 – PSC appointed by governor, PURC’s role eliminated

This bill would allow the governor to appoint the Public Service Commission (PSC) members with the advice and consent of the Senate. The Public Utilities Review Committee (PURC) would no longer screen and nominate PSC candidates, or perform any oversight roles such as the annual performance reviews currently required by law. The bill would also lengthen the terms of PSC members from four to six years, and would reduce the size of the commission from seven to five members. Under current law, PSC members must have a background in any one of a number of specified areas including energy, finance, law, etc. This bill would require that there be a PSC member who has a background in each of the following areas: Energy, telecommunications, consumer protection and water issues. Finally, language is added requiring the PSC to act in the public interest.

This bill would greatly lessen the legislative concentration of power over the energy industry. However, if any party to a proceeding before the PSC – commissioner, staffer, or even a private citizen – violates the statutory ex parte communication rules (by communicating improperly with a party to a proceeding), they would answer not to the executive or judicial branches, but to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. Holding agency members accountable for ethical violations is not the proper jurisdiction of the legislature, and giving lawmakers power to hold private citizens accountable for improper conduct would be a highly concerning move.

Finally, it should be noted that this bill does not eliminate the PURC: It simply removes its jurisdiction over the PSC. The PURC’s current – and extensive – power over the Office of Regulatory Staff (ORS) would still be in place. While the bill would eliminate the PURC’s authority to screen Santee Cooper board members, at least in the section of state code detailing the powers of the PURC, it does not eliminate the corresponding provision in the code pertaining to Santee Cooper. Unless the requirement that the PURC screen Santee Cooper board members is struck in both places, the PURC’s influence over Santee Cooper would remain.

 

Legislation breakdown:

  • Restarts staggering of terms
  • Reduces PSC from 7 to 5 members
  • Makes them appointed by the governor, with advice and consent of the Senate
  • Adds more qualifications (the topics are already in state law. The difference is requiring one of each):
    • 1 member must have background in energy
    • 1 member must have background in telecommunications
    • 1 member must have background in consumer protection and advocacy issues
    • One member must have background in water and wastewater issues
    • One “general member” must have background in any of the above, or in
      • Finance, econ, statistics
      • Accounting
      • Engineering
      • Law
    • Strikes exception to qualification on PURC ¾ vote, and that it doesn’t apply to reelection of a commissioner first elected in 2004
    • Lengthens terms from four to six years
    • Adds language requiring PSC to act in the public interest
    • Violation of ex parte communication rules must be reported to House and Senate judiciaries instead of PURC
    • Leaves PURC in place, but removes all oversight of PSC. Now they would just control ORS
    • Strikes PURC’s authority to screen Santee Cooper board candidates (although it doesn’t strike Santee Cooper’s corresponding code in 8-31)
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