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Peggy Welsh Winds Up: NARUC's New Exec Wants PUCs to Network with Congress Joseph F. Schuler Jr.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 15 1997

in America and there will continue to be clashes of how you get to competition and whether or not stricter environmental requirements are going to be a part of the new game."

Welsh notes dryly that tension will continue.

"Again, it's going to be a regional tension. As you know, FERC and EPA went round and round. With Betsy Moler going over to DOE, she has very strongly held beliefs there, so you'll probably see that tension continue. It's a good, healthy debate. The one thing that I would not like to see is that it bring the entire process down."

The environmental debate will occur on the state level as well, she notes. "You are going to have a coalition of states from the Northeast battling the coalition states from the Midwest on these issues. ... I can't predict how, but it will definitely be a complicating factor, which is why you won't see a bill this year. It will be one of the reasons, for sure.

"Now let me toot NARUC's horn here," she adds with a smile. "For the first time in history, we got the two regulatory communities together last month in Houston at a conference we sponsored with EPA. We got the EPA regulators and the economic regulators, our folks, together to talk about these issues, as well as stakeholders. ... Those are the kinds of good things NARUC does that people don't always know about.

"Now there was not any final decision made out of this conference. What was made was a sense that these issues are being dealt with in both agencies in every state and that they are regional in nature and that there needs to be cooperative efforts done."

NARUC plans to schedule more workshops, further adding to their plate of responsibility, now as environmental equalizers.

What about other growing issues furthered by electric deregulation; re-regulation coming in the form of consumer safeguards, for instance? Public utility commissions are staffed with economists and engineers examining rate structures and depreciation schedules, but PUCs are becoming more consumer oriented. Are PUCs ready to enter the consumer realm?

"I would say we're getting ready very much to be caretakers of the consumer interest, if we are not already actively doing so," Welsh says. "We have an ad hoc committee on consumer affairs that was begun at the beginning of this year.

"Every conversation we have, the test is always the consumer interest and the consumer protection part of that. So I don't like the word 're-regulation' because I don't think consumer protection equals re-regulation. I think that's an unfair equivalency test, but I do think that state commissions are very ready and very able to take on the consumer protection role.

"You're right, they've spent their lives in a rate-case mode. And in a competitive world that changes. But the bottom line test to rate cases has always been: 'What is in the best interest of the public? What is in the best interest of the consumer?'"

Welsh says one of the reasons she respects her