NARUC's Existential Threat Defeated in 1931, and PUF

The character of NARUC Annual Meetings was disputed and settled at the 1931 Meeting, including NARUC’s strong relationship with PUF
Today in Fortnightly

This year’s NARUC Annual Meeting starts in two and a half weeks, in La Quinta, California. Few of those planning to attend know that the character of the Annual Meetings was disputed and settled at the 1931 Meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

David Lilienthal of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission already had a national reputation. He would later help found and lead the Tennessee Valley Authority and then the Atomic Energy Commission. But in October 1931, the regulatory reformer upset and clashed with his fellow regulators in Richmond.

Lilienthal wanted to put an end to what he called the junketing aspects of the Annual Meetings. Or if that didn’t happen, to break up NARUC. 

He even said that in the hotel room next to his: “a distinguished Commissioner … was engaged in a drinking bout with the chief lobbyist of the bus assn. and three young girls, one of whom passed out entirely.”

Lilienthal had three specific demands. Banning utility representatives from the whole program of Annual Meetings. Making Washington D.C. the permanent site for the Meetings. 

And Lilienthal’s third demand? Withdrawing NARUC’s historic support for Public Utilities Reports and Public Utilities Fortnightly. Wait, that’s us. Eek!

Lilienthal didn’t like that PUF was considered conservative. Though NARUC President Thomas Murphy and other Commissioners pointed out that PUF often published articles by regulatory reformers like James Bonbright, Emanuel Celler, William Mosher, Gifford Pinchot, Clyde Seavey and Lilienthal himself. And that PUF was a much-needed service disseminating information and discussing utility regulation and policy. 

NARUC rejected all three demands. And remained intact and effective to this day. 

Utility representatives were already limited from parts of the program enabling Commissioners and Commission Staff to talk among themselves. Annual Meetings took place in different cities to encourage active participation from all the Commissions. 

And NARUC’s strong relationship with PUF endured. 

As the magazine for commentary, opinion and debate on utility regulation and policy since 1928, Public Utilities Fortnightly fosters vigorous arguments on the hottest issues of our day, and occasionally reflects on the arguments and issues of our past.