March 5, 2012

GOP tries to block O’Malley regulators

By Daniel Menefee, 2 March 2012

Sen. E.J. Pipkin made an unsuccessful plea on the Senate floor Friday to reject two Public Service Commission nominees who lobbied for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind proposals last year.

“I don’t believe these two nominees can be objective enough to protect ratepayers,” Pipkin told the Senate. “They were the governor’s two chief leaders in [offshore wind] proposals before us last year.”

Pipkin said the PSC is supposed to act independently and that nominees Kelly Speaks-Beckman and Kevin Hughes have previously worked as “advocates for alternative energies that are for more expensive for the ratepayer than traditional energy sources,” Pipkin said in a statement. Those who lobbied from “outside the PSC cannot be independent while serving on it.”

“These are important decisions that actually have ramifications for our ratepayers that cost billions of dollars,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin said the PSC last year estimated the surcharge on electric bills for offshore wind energy development as high as $9 a month – but later lowered the estimate, under pressure from the administration, to $2 a month to coincide with the governor’s statements of a $2 cap.

The PSC suddenly reversed course in its estimates of the monthly surcharge down to $2 as a result of a “significant amount of pressure” from the administration, Pipkin said.

Pipkin said a string of e-mails between Speakes-Backman and the PSC last year showed the administration was “actively coercing an independent agency to amend its forecasts to bolster the governor’s agenda.”

Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, rose in defense of the nominees and said the PSC acted appropriately at the request of the House Economic Matters Committee.

“What the emails show here is that the PSC weighed in on a matter of great importance to the General Assembly,” Frosh said. “A point of fact, they were asked to work with the… executive branch and the legislative branch to figure out what was going on in a matter of very important policy.”

Frosh said the PSC was an independent agency but there was a provision in the law that made it appropriate for the agency to work with the administration on legislative matters.

“That’s what was going on here,” Frosh said about the emails.

The nominees were confirmed with seven Republicans voting against them.

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