Consumers Council of Missouri held its 2013 annual meeting on December 3. Executive Director Joan Bray gave the following report on the organization's activities for the year.
Consumers Gain from CCM's Effort This Year
Consumers Council had a very busy year – with several notable successes -- in our efforts to protect the interests of individual consumers. We worked primarily in three areas of concentration – utility policy, health care access and personal finance – but took on other issues as well.
We were especially effective working with our consumer coalition to defeat the utilities’ legislation that would have allowed them to add more surcharges to your bills. The electricity, gas and water companies all asked legislators to allow them either to add infrastructure surcharges or increase them. But working with the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund – FERAF – we held them off.
The Missouri Senate defeated the water companies’ bill on a 16-17 vote. Seven senators filibustered the electric utilities’ bill. And while the natural gas companies’ bill passed both the House and the Senate, Governor Nixon vetoed it. He noted that the bill benefitted the companies but did virtually nothing for consumers.
We appreciate all the consumers who attended CCM’s meeting about the harmful utility legislation and who contacted their legislators and the governor about the bad bills. As you can see, contacting them works!
Consumers generally held our own in rate cases, handled by John Coffman, our Utilities Consumer Counsel. John works with the state Office of Public Counsel, led by Lewis Mills, and other consumer lawyers to present the strongest effort.
Ameren Missouri: While Ameren got a larger rate increase than we thought was due, it got about 30 percent less than it wanted. Consumer victories came with convincing the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) to maintain Ameren’s minimum customer charge at $8, as opposed to Ameren Missouri’s proposed $12, and to lower the return on equity to 9.8 percent. We also defeated a bad idea called “construction accounting,” which would have been similar to “construction work in progress,” or CWIP, allowing the company to charge customers for building facilities before they are operating.
Kansas City Power and Light: The PSC granted a rate increase of about 60 percent of what KCP&L asked for, kept the customer charge low at $10 and prevented large industrial customers from shifting an additional 1 percent of revenue onto residential customers.
Laclede Gas Company: The company asked for a rate increase of $58 million, raising the average residential gas bill by more than $5/month. But, in the end, the company got no rate increase and the current customer charge of $19.50 did not rise.
Billing Rules: After consumer advocates and the PSC worked for seven years, in November the PSC finalized the rules governing disputes between individual consumers and monopoly utilities. Among the outcomes are: continuing the requirement that a representative of a utility make a safety check in person – knock on the door -- at a home that is about to have its electricity shut off for non-payment; giving a customer without credit four ways to establish credit in order to avoid paying a large deposit to establish service; convincing the PSC to consider looking at how utilities associate with payday lending institutions as pay stations.
Veolia: When the City of St. Louis proposed a consulting contract with Veolia Water North America to review procedures at its Water Division, CCM examined the contract and registered consumer opposition to the flawed contracting process and advocated best practices in the contract itself as well as in hiring consultants, particularly competitive bidding.
Court Case: Consumers lost in the state appeals court on a case that concerns the definitions of “transmit” and “transport.” We are appealing to the state’s Supreme Court.
As a member of the Cover Missouri Coalition, Consumers Council shares the vision with more than 200 other organizations of reducing the number of uninsured in Missouri by working to build awareness, facilitate enrollment in the federal Affordable Care Act, increase health insurance literacy and support Medicaid transformation.
Consumers Council is working with attorney Jay Angoff, former director of the Missouri Department of Insurance, to file suit in federal court against Senate Bill 262, which became law in July. The law restricts access to healthcare by limiting the activities of workers in jobs designated in the federal law to enroll consumers in healthcare. The case is in the court of Senior U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith in Kansas City.
Consumers Council is a member of St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance, which works to increase investment in minority communities, regardless of income, and in low- and moderate-income communities, regardless of race, by ensuring that banks are meeting their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act and fair lending laws. In August the group released a report, The State of Bank Reinvestment in St. Louis: An analysis of how banks are meeting the needs of the community.
The report examines how the top twenty banks in St. Louis are reinvesting. It found a lack of minorities in bank leadership positions as well as disparities in access to credit. It was released in conjunction with the 50th commemoration of the Jefferson Bank demonstrations in 1963, when black and white community members and leaders demonstrated in front of Jefferson Bank and Trust to protest the bank’s lack of black employees as well as overall discriminatory employment practices in St. Louis.
CCM also participates in the St. Louis Regional Unbanked Taskforce, which was formed to identify and address systemic and individual barriers that bar unbanked and under-banked households from using traditional banking products and services, and the Bank On Save Up St. Louis program.
Consumers Council continues to work with Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (C.A.R.S.) to try to get Congress to pass a bill barring rental car companies from renting recalled vehicles that have not been repaired. We try to work closely on this issue with U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who chairs the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance.
We also advocated with our congressional delegation to continue the Lifeline program. The program has long provided a discount on phone service for qualifying low-income consumers to ensure that all Americans have the opportunities and security that phone service brings, such as connecting to jobs, family and emergency services.
CCM’s longtime executive director, Judi Roman, retired. Joan Bray resigned from the board, and the board hired Joan to be executive director. Jackie Hutchinson succeeded Joan as board chair. Among Joan’s activities have been redesigning the website, working with the board on a strategic plan and engaging a third-year student at the Intellectual Property & Nonprofit Organizations Clinic at Washington University Law School to update board policies.
CCM continues its participation in the Consumer Federation of America, National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates and Missouri Energy Initiative.
Annual Report submitted by
Joan Bray, Executive Director
Board of Directors
Jackie Hutchinson, President; Ed Weisbart, Vice President; Tracy McCreery, Secretary/Treasurer; Joyce Armstrong; Wayne Goode; Ray Hartmann; Renee Marver; Glenna Osborn; Mary Still; Rob Swearingen; Holly Vavrek
Joan Bray, Executive Director John Coffman, Utility Consumer Counsel