by Scott Faughn
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – On the heels of a contentious Public Service Commission hearing Wednesday where the Commission unanimously decided to keep open a docket requested by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, to collect more information, two sitting senators have accused former PSC Chairman Kevin Gunn of lobbying them to support the pending “ISRS” bill.
At the meeting, Commissioner Terry Jarrett argued that opening the docket to collect information on SB207 had brought the PSC into the ISRS debate. Chairman Robert Kenney said he strongly disagreed. He referenced many instances in which the PSC had already been involved regarding the ISRS issue in a different context.
“The problem before us precedes this docket,” Keeney said. “The problem existed before this docket. I have to weigh any damage keeping the docket open against the damage that has already been done”.
Later during the meeting, Commissioner Bill Kenney said he did not think it is the role of the PSC to give advice on legislation.
“That’s what we we’ve already been doing,” Chairman Kenney replied.
The Missouri Times has learned of a meeting in the Senate Pershing Gallery between Gunn and six legislators when the bill was heard by the Commerce and Energy Committee on Feb. 5 and when it was voted out of committee Feb. 20. Gunn left his post as PSC Chairman March 1.
The meeting was called by Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, the bill’s sponsor, and Sen. Brad Lager, the Missouri Times has learned. It included Rep. Jeannie Riddle, R-Callaway County, who has sponsored the companion House bill, House Utilities Committee Chairman Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, who supported the bill in his committee, as well as Gunn, and two Senators known not to support the legislation Doug Libla R-Poplar Bluff and Wayne Wallingford R- Cape Girardeau. PSC Commissioner Terry Jarrett also attended the meeting, but by all accounts did not speak to any extent about the legislation.
Specific accounts of the meeting differ, but Sen.’s Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, and Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau told The Missouri Times during interviews that they felt that were asked to the meeting to support the ISRS legislation by Gunn in his capacity as PSC chairman.
“Sen.’s Lager and Kehoe invited me to a meeting in the Pershing Gallery conference room to talk about SB 207, and it quickly became clear that the meeting was with a group of people in support of it trying to persuade Sen. Wallingford and myself to join them,” Libla said.
When asked if he felt he was being lobbied in that meeting by the chairman of the PSC to support the ISRS legislation Wallingford said, “I did feel that he was lobbying us to support ISRS, and I do not feel that that is what their role in the process should be.”
In a separate interview, Wallingford said, “Mr. Gunn was explaining how much better it would be for consumers of Ameren to get increased rates up front. I replied to him that I felt that in situations where the improvements were not deemed necessary that their mechanism of issuing credits would ultimately wind up making consumers unwilling investors in Ameren UE”
By all accounts, the meeting turned confrontational when Libla confronted Gunn about his comments in support of ISRS.
“Chairman Gunn repeatedly called ISRS a jobs bill,” Libla said. “I stated, well of course it isn’t.’ It would kill more jobs than any tax increase might. I looked at him and told him I found it remarkable that in his capacity as chairman of the PSC he would be in here lobbying to support this bill or any other bill. The other commissioner didn’t speak very much, but I found the entire meeting inappropriate, and had no problem telling them so.”
In his own interview, Gunn offered a different take on the meeting.
“Yes, the meeting took place, and I was asked to attend the meeting in the gallery, but when I arrived I had no idea who would be attending, or specifically that there would be anyone at the meeting who was against the ISRS concept,” Gunn told The Missouri Times. “I was aware that Sen. Lager and Kehoe would be at the meeting, but didn’t know who else would be there. I simply never lobbied anyone on this legislation. I was requested to attend a meeting to explain the technical aspects of how the water and gas ISRS process works.
“I was only there to explain how the process would be implemented if passed,” he said. “This meeting was before there was even a committee substitute written. I was actually there to describe how the process works currently, since there were going to be changes to the bill, I wasn’t going there to talk about the specific implementation of SB207.”
Secondly, Gunn said that any support for the bill was offered as a private citizen, not as the PSC Chairman, and was asked to offer his personal views by Libla.
“I was asked by Sen. Libla for my personal views on the legislation,” he said. “Not as a PSC commissioner, but for my personal views so I explained them to him He asked me after I made it clear I had been invited to the meeting and was only there for informational purposes, but I did have my own view of ISRS.”
As to whether or not he referred to ISRS as a jobs bill, which is a phrase used by many of the bill’s supporters, he said it is “irrefutable” that investing in infrastructure creates an economic impact.
“There was certainly a moment of confrontation but not lobbying,” Lager added. “Mr. Gunn did say that he personally felt there would be more regulation under ISRS if done properly, but the entire conversation was similar to conversations I have been a part of with previous commissioners such as Robert Clayton.”
Funderburk said he could not recall many of the specifics of the meeting, but did not feel that Gunn was lobbying in support the bill.
“We were discussing several concepts, but I didn’t think there was any lobbying in that meeting,” Funderburk added.
Kehoe, Riddle, and Jarrett were also reportedly at the meeting, but did not immediately return calls for comment.
However, during Wednesday’s PSC meeting, Jarrett said that if during the past the Commission’s advice went beyond technical advice, he would not be supportive of those actions.
The ISRS legislation currently is on the Senate calendar and has reportedly been turned in by the chairman of the House Utilities Committee to the Speaker of the House.