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Behind the Limelight: An Interview with the Advisors for Five Key Regulators

Fortnightly Magazine - June 1 1998

person I've been around. He reads everything. He's the only commissioner I've been around who tries to read every single brief in all the cases.

It connects with my personality because generally I also try to read as much as I can but a lot of times, while he is intensely focused on one, or certain issues, I try to go out and get a broader spectrum from the staff on other issues.

What have you learned in dealing with utilities or intervenors? The biggest challenge I faced when I first came here was learning the acronyms. You have to learn a little bit about engineering, a little bit about economics, a little about finance. And that's the best part about this job.

How can parties make certain their case receives the attention it deserves, especially from staffers who exert the "first cut"? I was asked to speak to a group of small businessmen, air conditioning contractors¼ once I got up there I was pretty surprised to find¼ they were very concerned about affiliate transactions and about the incumbent utility¼ in the process of purchasing a service corporation¼ heating and air conditioning. Under the brand name of the utility, they were going to compete.

They wanted to know how to protect their interests. I advised them first to get a lobbyist, participate before the legislature. But I said it's very, very important to become an intervenor in the rulemaking that will go on before the commission on affiliate transactions.

In the past, small businesses could rely on using the unsworn or the sworn testimony at the public hearings, but now that you have the stakes raised with the restructuring of the industry, I encourage everyone to intervene.

What is the most important issue your boss faces at the moment? Ohio is looking at companion bills on restructuring of the electric industry. It's sort of a tie. Because in gas we have a gas choice pilot program out now. And we as a commission are looking to expand those programs.

How is seamless policy developed while faces on the commission change? Most of the people¼ have been here since the '70s and '80s. The commission has staggered terms. There are five commissioners and one commissioner is up every year. There's turnover, but there's continuity.

What is the most common misperception of regulators? How do you change that? That regulators move too slow and that we're currently re-regulating instead of deregulating. And what I have done to help straighten out the misconception is work on educating people on antitrust issues involved, affiliate transaction issues and such.

Frederick W. "Rick" Weston: Advisor to Commissioner Richard Cowart (Vt.PSB)

A SOMEDAY COMMISSIONER? Boss: Vermont Public Service Board Chairman Richard H. Cowart. Background: Graduated Middlebury College, then managed a branch office of a multinational insurance company in Saudi Arabia. Returned to school for graduate studies in international relations at Tufts University. In the late '80s, did energy work for a small consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Then, for the Conservation Law Foundation, worked to promote demand-side management efforts.