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PUCs at 2000 - Question TwoState Commissioners

Fortnightly Magazine - November 15 1995


The remedy, if we feel unappreciated and misunderstood, is of course to work on our external communications. I have a few suggestions:

* Keep a public information professional staff in the face of pressures to trim budget and people. Marketing public policy and PUC actions is as relevant as it is in a commodity business.

* Maintain close contact with major media editorial boards. Provide them with current and timely information, and hold personal interviews on a regular basis.

* Hold information sessions with key legislators, committee staff, and the governor's office. Don't assume any basic knowledge of the principles of regulation or economic theory. Give them some history and information on how we fail by not paying attention to history's lessons - such as when we allowed imprudent investments in large nuclear plants without adequate resource analysis.

* Don't cloak frustration in self-righteousness, but also don't give up on the fundamental mission of ensuring the welfare of future generations while guarding the rights of existing customers.

We failed to communicate and educate effectively, and we ended up with a new state agency structure that is arguably less efficient and has been set adrift from its public policy moorings. The lesson is that our remaining regulatory functions and public goals may be at stake if we continue to neglect effective legislative communication and education. [End of Hamilton response]

Response by Ken Stofferahn, Chairman, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission:

We have a decent working relationship with our legislators. It always could be better. Our legislature meets for about two months each year, and our issues are obviously only a small part of their workload. There are always many voices and opinions to fit within limited time, so it's useful to work on resolution among the parties before seeking legislative answers. The legislature seems receptive to this approach.

Again, obviously, our legislators are interested in matters affecting their constituencies and the state. Priorities play a part in the attention given. The legislators have shown great interest in some matters and less interest in others.

Our PUC operates under authority grated through statute. Fundamental change will likely require statutory change as a prerequisite. It is axiomatic that we will need to work more closely with the legislature to condition change. [End of Stofferahn response]

Response by Al Mueller, Chairman, Missouri Public Service Commission:

While I think most lawmakers have an interest in utility regulation, I think most have had a very limited contact with the process and are therefore not terribly familiar with the role of the state PUC. Lawmakers are apt to hear more of the negative aspects of both the industry and its regulators, since they are most often contacted when a constituent has a problem with either the utility or the regulator.

In recent years, we have made a substantial attempt to provide more information to the legislature, to try to help them understand the problems we have as well as make them more comfortable with participating in the process. These attempts have been variously received - sometimes because we are