Regulating Utilities in the Dark

Regulating Utilities in the Dark

JEFFERSON CITY / April 21, 2017 – For the first time in recalled history, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has reduced their ethical standards. As the regulatory body over monopoly investor-owned utilities in our state, the PCS has been increasing transparency and good governance standards since the 1970’s but with a new rule issued this week, we have taken an enormous step backwards.

In order to facilitate transparency and maintain public trust and confidence in the Commission’s integrity and impartiality, the Commission previously adopted rules regarding off-the-record communications between commissioners and utility executives and their lobbyists. These rules require notice and public disclosure of what the commission is doing on the public’s behalf. It is common-sense policy.

The PCS recently approved a new rule that undoes that work and eviscerates their code of ethics. The new rule removes disclosure and notice requirements and eliminates the requirement for public representation by the Office of Public Council. What this rule effectively does is allow the commissioners to meet in private with utilities with no meaningful public oversight.

This controversial measure was not a slam dunk at the Commission. Two of its five members voted against it. Both Steve Stoll and Bill Kenney voted to preserve the current ethical standards. Consumer advocates such as Consumers Council of Missouri are lauding these two commissioners for standing up for transparency and consumer interests in the Capital, not a popular stance in Jeff City these days.

In fact, utilities appear to be colluding with the legislature to increase costs through numerous bills before both the House and Senate. With over 100 utility lobbyists registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission on behalf of utilities, they may very well have their way.

Senate Bill 190 is being pushed hard by Ameren and other electric companies. This sweeping legislation would make numerous changes to the current ratemaking system, causing rates to rise faster and increase higher for the same level of service, costing Missourians hundreds of millions. To make matters worse, this legislation includes lower rate for one company: Doe Run, subsidizing their rates by rate increases on ordinary households.

Senate Bill 184 threatens to guarantee water company profits regardless changes in usage. This legislation would allow water companies to automatically increase water rates annually to cover losses from decreased consumer usage that could result from abnormal weather, an economic downturn, or other disaster. Ratepayers would essentially have to guarantee profits, shielding a for-profit company from decreased profits.

As our legislature ponders massive cuts to senior tax breaks and considers an end to nursing home and in-home care services for more than 20,000 Missourians with disabilities to balance the state’s budget, now is not the time for legislators to be wasting precious time figuring out how to increase utility profits at the expense of all Missourians.


Thank the commissioners who stood up for transparency in utility regulation:
Steve Stoll: 573-751-4221
Bill Kenney: 573-751-7508