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Consumers may have seat on Public Service Commission

A consumer advocate may soon be seated on the state Public Service Commission.

The state Assembly has passed A.5838, sponsored by Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, D-Corona, by a 138-9 vote this week. Assemblyman Joe Giglio voted in favor of the consumer advocate while Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted against.

Cruz said the consumer representative will ensure the interests of working families, small businesses and other ratepayers are not subordinated to the interests of public utilities and corporations that she said are already well-represented in Public Service proceedings.

“This isn’t the first time that our legislature provides guidance in how to form one of these bodies,” Cruz said on the legislature floor. “We routinely require several members from the Senate to be appointed, several members from the Assembly, several members from the executive. This isn’t the first time. And this isn’t about putting someone with special interests onto this body. This is about putting someone with the interest of the consumer in mind when they’re making decisions; someone who understands what our colleagues in Long Island described; someone who understands the needs of farmers; someone who understands the needs of the homeowners; of the renters; of all of the folks who are filing the complaints. They go in front of this body, and this body’s experience is skewed. There is no argument that it is skewed toward the interest of the private entities, toward the businesses, toward the electric companies, of the cable companies. No one has the consumer in mind first when they’re making these decisions.”

Connecticut and Massachusetts have similar provisions in their state laws.

Goodell said if there is a problem in the makeup of the Public Service Commission, it lies with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who appoints members, and the state Senate, which has confirmation approval of Public Service Commission members.

“Even though I’m uncomfortable with the current process, which is dominated by one political party, I nevertheless have always respected the Public Service Commission for their knowledge and expertise,” Goodell said. “I am concerned that we are going down a road of taking broad appointments that require legislative approval in the Senate and starting to carve up the membership into special interest groups, if you will. The objective of Public Service Commission membership was to have people who, and I’m sure my colleague agrees with this, the purpose was to have representatives who did not have a particular ax to grind, if you will. But this legislation says the only way you can get on as a consumer advocate is if you have a history of opposing utility companies. I don’t think we should put a requirement on any appointment that you walk into the job with a history of being pro utility company or anti utility company, if you will, or pro consumer. I think we want to look for the people that can meet this fiduciary obligation in the best way to protect our utility system and ensure that we are moving in the right direction.”

Companion legislation, S.1199, passed the state Senate Feb. 23, in a 50-13 vote, with Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voting against it.

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