Governor Deval L. Patrick late yesterday filed legislation that would overhaul utility regulation in Massachusetts, splitting the Department of Telecommunications and Energy into two separate agencies with its main functions assigned to his environmental affairs secretary.
Patrick’s plan effectively undoes a 1998 move by then-governor Paul Cellucci and even brings back the agency name – the Department of Public Utilities – that Cellucci abolished. The remade public utilities commission, regulating electric and gas companies like NStar, National Grid, and KeySpan Energy Delivery, would, like the pre-1998 agency, have three members instead of the DTE’s five. None of the current DTE commissioners would be guaranteed a spot on the new commission, Patrick aides said.
The DTE’s current oversight of telecommunications and cable television companies such as Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., which are largely unregulated anyway or subject to federal rules that preempt state control, would move to a new one-person commission in the economic-development agency.
“This is all part of the integration of the energy and environmental agendas,” said Robert Keough , spokesman for Patrick environmental chief Ian Bowles , whose title would be changed to secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “We want this three-person commission to concentrate fully on the opportunities and challenges in the energy secretary.”
In his first month in office, Patrick reversed a decision by predecessor Mitt Romney and had the state rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative , a group of northeastern states working to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by imposing new regulations for electric power plant pollution. Patrick also wants to promote alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power and, unlike Romney, has supported the 130-tower Cape Wind proposal for Nantucket Sound.
The utility regulation move is the biggest change in a so-called Article 87 government reorganization bill Patrick filed late yesterday. Named for a part of the state constitution, it allows the governor to reorganize the executive branch by filing a bill that legislators must vote yes or no on, without amendments, within 60 days.
Senator Michael W. Morrissey , a Quincy Democrat who heads the legislative panel that oversees the DTE, said he anticipated legislators would be inclined to support Patrick. “Obviously, the new governor has said he wants to change the way business has been done on Beacon Hill, and I think this shows they’re serious about it. I think people will take a look at these changes and try to be accommodating of changes that improve the business climate,” Morrissey said.
Four DTE commissioners who could be put out of work – chairwoman Judith Judson and commissioners James Connelly and Robert Keating, all Republicans , and Democrat Soo J. Kim – could not be reached for comment last evening. The fifth seat is vacant.
The new public utilities commission would have three members, no more than two from the same political party, and all would be required to have a professional background in electric and natural gas energy. Two of the three would be appointed to terms that expire when the governor leaves office, the third to a term that starts and ends two years after each governor is sworn in.
Patrick hasn’t identified any candidates he is considering for either commission, Keough said.
Officials at NStar and National Grid, which will soon close a $7 billion takeover of KeySpan, said last night they were not ready to comment on Patrick’s legislation because they had not yet seen it.
Another part of Patrick’s plan affecting state businesses would abolish the Commonwealth Development Coordinating Council , a Romney-era move that created a position overseeing the transportation and housing secretaries. Patrick instead plans to convene five state secretaries in a “development cabinet” to “identify opportunities where secretaries can work together on projects that will expand the economic opportunities throughout the commonwealth,” Patrick’s office said.
By Peter J. Howe, Globe Staff
10 February 2007
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