Archived Story

I want to hear from the people

Published 1:06pm Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There has been a great deal said and written in recent weeks about the Public Service Commission and its review of rates charged by Alabama Power Company, Alagasco, and Mobile Gas to its ratepayers. Several columnists and editorial boards alike have repeatedly misrepresented the official public review process approved by the PSC by all three Commissioners less than two months ago. I write today to set the record straight.

At my first Commission meeting since being appointed by Governor Bentley, I voted, along with PSC Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Terry Dunn, to begin an official public review of each of the three utilities. This review would consist of a series of public meetings held over a number of months. The public meetings are designed with the goal of hearing directly from Alabamians, rather than from lawyers. And the meetings will examine a number of factors that go into the price paid by consumers. I am baffled as to why columnists and editorial board writers continue to suggest that the choice is between a formal review or no review, when we have adopted a rigorous review process, which is currently underway.

Why am I in favor of the public review process unanimously adopted by the Commission? Because I believe it will give Alabamians the best chance to be heard, without interference by lawyers and judges.

At the Commission meeting in early January, Judge John Garner, who serves as Chief Administrative Law Judge and Executive Director of the Commission, explained why the public review process adopted by the Commission is best. According to Judge Garner, a formal review process should be used as “the last resort.” Judge Garner said he favored the public review process adopted because this process allows for freer participation of participants and public without restriction on open dialogue or interference by lawyers. Judge Garner also acknowledged that, if the Commission entered into a formal process, it would severely limit the ability of the Commissioners to engage in the process.

Furthermore, I would like to memorialize my defense of the Commission’s employees against allegations that they have not conducted a review of utility rates in nearly 30 years. Several writers have used carefully chosen language to suggest that a review of utility rates has not occurred in over 30 years. That is false, and is a disservice to the Commission’s employees, who diligently work to hold utilities accountable. In my short time as a Commissioner, I have been impressed by their expertise and work ethic. You should be proud of the employees at the Commission that serve you – I certainly am.

As I stated in the meeting, my primary interest in the official review process is to hear from our true constituents – Alabamians, not Californians. The formal process, while perhaps well intentioned, would move us immediately into a quasi-judicial proceeding with lawyers talking to lawyers. I oppose this. Furthermore, a formal review would examine only one factor that goes into price. I support a review process that will examine ALL factors that go into the price paid by Alabamians. And as I said during our most recent meeting, if it becomes apparent to me that we should consider a move to a formal process during our review, then I will support it.

Since joining the Commission, I have examined rate trends in our neighboring Southeastern states. Rates are increasing all around us, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, at a time that families, already facing President Obama’s tax hikes, can least afford them. Because of this, and because the exhaustive review process I support will take time, the Commission asked during the last meeting for utilities to commit that their rates will not increase in 2013 and 2014. If the utilities will live up to this request, your Commission will have the time we need for this public review process to be thorough, to allow for maximum public input, and to proceed at a deliberate pace.

It is odd to me that so many in the media and other left-leaning groups are so anxious to declare the official public review process a failure before it has even begun. Why? What do they really want? What I want is simple – an open, transparent process that gives a voice to Alabamians and ensures that Alabama consumers enjoy low-cost, reliable service from those we regulate. I am confident the process I support will yield results for the people of Alabama. Let’s get started.

Jeremy Oden currently serves on the Alabama Public Service Commission in Place 1. He is originally from Eva.

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