State and federal regulators and the industries we regulate have donned life jackets. It's as if we are boating down the unexplored Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell1 in 1869. We share a vague vision of what lies at the mouth of the canyon, but the rapids are treacherous and uncharted.
On the river, boatmen and women often scout the tough rapids from the shore. Back on the river, they carefully set themselves up at the proper position and angle, then apply deft, sometimes powerful, strokes at crucial moments. Likewise, good regulators carefully prepare proceedings (increasingly legislative ones), provide stakeholders with fair process, then make discreet, sometimes strong, decisions at key times.
Today's regulators have many advantages over the intrepid, one-armed Powell. We have fine equipment, excellent training and experience, and an enormous support group (em each other, through the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC). But, like Powell, we face tremendous uncertainty.
In 1995, the gas industry and its regulators, led by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), eddied out in the up-welling water behind Order 636. They'd run the Class Five rapids over the last few years and, although they took on some water, they'd kept their boats upright. The unbundling of the industry had largely been a success, but a couple of tail waves remain: making electronic trading productive instead of obstructive, and crafting a market for upstream capacity release. The water industry has avoided the big water and stuck to Class Three streams, such as reform of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The roiling white water this year was found in the electric and telecommunications industries.