by Scott Faughn
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A contentious Public Service Commission meeting ended in consensus on Wednesday with the PSC voting unanimously to allow the expedited request of Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, to provide the Senate more information on the pending “ISRS” legislation in the form of a formal docket and have the information returned to Senator Schmitt as soon as possible.
Schmitt was pleased by this affirmation by the commission’s decision to review the legislation that would allow investor owned utilities to charge customers a surcharge in order to pay for previously completed infrastructure projects.
“I am pleased the PSC has kept the docket open and will allow a full review of the facts, SB207 and its impact on our constituents,” Schmitt said. “Allowing this process to move forward will aid in general assembly’s deliberation on this very important matter.”
While supporting keeping the docket open, the PSC did amend their prior plans for a full inquiry that would include a hearing and a discovery phase. Their decision came after Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and Sen. Brad Lager, chairman of the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee, penned a letter urging them to cancel the hearing.
Dempsey told The Missouri Times that he was fine with receiving technical advice from the PSC on a bill. But, the decision to hold a hearing under Section 386.380.2 RSMo should be discussed by the whole Senate or House, or perhaps requested by the President Pro Tem or Speaker of the House acting in their capacity as presiding officers of their respective chambers.
“I think they did a wise thing by canceling the hearing. They should respond to senators questions, and I comfortable with how they handled the situation,” he said.
In a previous scenario, Lager and Dempsey sent a letter asking for the PSC to increase their involvement in a utility matter. However, Lager pointed out that the circumstances were very different from then and now.
“The previous letter I sent to the PSC was meant to ask for technical information and was to be provided while the legislature was not in session,” he said.
The PSC reached consensus on allowing the docket to remain open after nearly an hour of contentious debate. Chairman Robert Kenney aggressively advocated for a full, open docket that would include a hearing and a discovery phase. Commissioner Terry Jarrett led the fight for as narrow an inquiry as possible while repeatedly saying he was for transparency, just not for a larger inquiry on this issue.
Commissioner Terry Jarrett argued that opening this docket had brought the PSC into the ISRS debate, which was met by a lengthy rebuttal by Chairman Kenney, who carefully referenced many past instances where the PSC had already been involved in the ISRS issue.
“The public docket would just be a framework for the PSC to do what we were already doing only on the record and in public instead of the way we were doing it,” Kenney said.
Commissioner Bill Kenney suggested that the request for further PSC involvement was a strategic move by opponents of the ISRS legislation to use the PSC as a pawn to delay debate and make passage less likely.
Lager said he agreed with Kenney’s view: “I believe invoking the PSC here was meant as a stalling tactic, and I believe it was very effective. I would speculate at this point the ISRS legislation has less than a 25 percent chance of passing.”
However, Schmitt specifically requested an expedited request, and The Missouri Times has confirmed a letter was signed by five Senators — Dan Brown, Doug Libla, Wayne Wallingford, Mike Parson, and Gary Romine — asking Dempsey to wait to begin debate on SB207 until the PSC has issued their expedited reply to Schmitt.
Jarrett argued several times after it was clear Schmitt’s request for more input would be granted to send that reply as soon as possible.
“I want to see it sent as soon after comments close on April 1as possible,” he said. With the legislature on break for Easter, the earliest the PSC response is likely to arrive when the Senate is in session would be on April 8.
While Lager may be pessimistic about the chances of passing the legislation, the war between both sides raged on. After the PSC meeting, Irl L. Scissors, executive director of Missourians for a Balanced Energy Future, sent out a statement.
“Throughout the legislative process, MBEF has worked with lawmakers from across the political spectrum and from every corner of the state, as well as with the Executive branch,” he said. “We will continue to provide information and answer questions about this important legislation that will keep moving Missouri forward by modernizing regulations, enabling investment in infrastructure and creating thousands of jobs in Missouri.”
Chris Roepe, a spokesman for the Fair Energy Rate Action Fund, responded: “The fact that Missouri utility companies continue to refuse to provide information and oppose a full investigation, public hearing and full exposure of this new surcharge legislation should tell Missourians all they need to know about what this new law will do to their electric bill.”
Monday The Missouri Times will follow up with a report about some of the instances that Commissioner Kenney referenced in the PSC meeting. Including two sitting senators accusing the former PSC chairman of lobbying them on legislation, and his forceful denial.