Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A letter to the editor in the Sun Times..

The signatories to this letter have a combined 138 years on the bench of a state public utility commission and have served 25 governors. We write to support the need for state utility commissions to exercise independent judgment on the difficult and often politically charged issues that come before them.

The Illinois Commerce Commission has pending before it proposals by ComEd and Ameren to purchase power through a market-based competitive process. ComEd and Ameren have indicated that because residential rates were cut by 20 percent and then frozen for nearly a decade and the price of energy has risen, rates are likely to rise. Gov. Blagojevich is understandably concerned about a rate increase. However, in the midst of the hearings on ComEd's and Ameren's proceedings, the governor wrote two letters to the commissioners indicating that he might fire them if they continued considering ComEd's and Ameren's proposals. The governor, it would appear, believes that ICC commissioners are mere functionaries of his administration, existing only to carry out his particular policy viewpoint. In fact, the ICC's role and purpose are quite different.

We take no position on ComEd or Ameren's proposals or on the appointment of any specific individual to the commission, but we do stand up for the independence of commissioners to make the correct policy judgments. The ICC is a quasi-judicial body that was created nearly a century ago to address fundamental policy issues associated with our most vital utility infrastructure. In weighing the public interest, the ICC is charged by law to balance the interests of customers and utilities alike. An independent commission is the appropriate venue for addressing these difficult questions in a fair and balanced fashion.

Moreover, the commission deliberates all issues in an open and transparent process in which all interested parties have an opportunity to voice their position. The law directs the commission to weigh the evidence presented in each case and make a decision based only on the facts. Commissioners must not be influenced by outside pressure, including the governor.

Speaking from experience, commissioners must move forward to complete their regulatory responsibilities. The law requires it, and the public relies on them to do so. The commission must not abandon this longstanding legal process, which is fundamental to fair and equal treatment for all customers and utilities.

Calvin Manshio, former commissioner,
Illinois Commerce Commission
(and 18 past and present public utility commissioners
in eight states and the District of Columbia)

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