Editorial: The Utility Shell Game

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 6, 2013

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is blocking a bill that would allow Ameren Missouri to raise electric rates on consumers more quickly with less regulatory oversight. Good for them. Now they should also block Senate Bill 240, which expands the ability of regulated gas utilities, such as Laclede Gas and Ameren, to raise rates outside the normal rate-case process. The bill would hit residential and small-business consumers the hardest. It is, quite simply, a money-grab by regulated monopoly utility companies that by all accounts are doing quite well financially.

If it weren’t such a bad bill, we’d have to take our hats off to the utility lobby for their clever shell game. With their right hand, they waved around the shiny object, Ameren’s Senate Bill 207, telling lawmakers they simply wanted an infrastructure just like gas companies had.

Meanwhile, with their left hands, the same coalition of utilities was advancing Senate Bill 240, a bill that completely changes the playing field on the existing gas surcharge.

Either way, consumers lose.

Unfortunately, the bill already passed the Senate and now just needs a final House vote to go to the governor. Majority floor leader Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, would pick the pockets of businesses and homeowners if he lets this bad bill pass with no changes. It would guarantee that consumers would pay more to heat and cool their homes. He and Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, should use their considerable power to slow down this attack on consumers. Failing that, Gov. Jay Nixon should start warming up his veto pen.

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