Gutted Public Service Commission's integrity in question

Everybody knows the Public Service Commission has been gutted.

They know it's cowed by the Legislature and compliant to the utilities it is supposed to regulate.

The only question is: How cowed and how compliant?

A local case — Evans Properties request to form a utility for 4,000 acres it owns in eastern Hernando and Pasco counties — might go a long way to providing an answer. The commission's final vote on this permit won't take place until Jan. 11, but judging from events this week, things aren't looking good for us consumers.

We'll get to that. But first a review of one of Tallahassee's ugliest political episodes of the year, which is a high standard indeed.

In January, four commissioners voted against a massive rate increase requested by the state's two largest utilities.

Two of these commissioners were newcomers, and the Senate retaliated by refusing to confirm them. To punish the two other more veteran commissioners for daring to stick up for the public, lawmakers made sure their terms ended this year.

One of these old hands, former Sen. Nancy Argenziano, quit in October, slamming the PSC on her way out for its "bought and sold nature." So, of the four who voted against the rate increase, only Nathan Skop remains. And he'll be gone as of Jan. 1.

Which brings us back to Tuesday, when the commission was supposed to give a final up or down on Skyland Utilities, as the Evans subsidiary is called.

Commission chairman Art Graham had decided on his own to put the vote off until Jan. 11 (which was not as long as Skyline wanted; he also turned down its request to reargue the case).

Skop objected and managed to get the postponement question brought before the board, only to see it pass by a 4-1 vote. He, naturally, cast the only dissenting vote and then offered his opinion why Skyland and the other commissioners were so eager to see the decision put off.

"I cant help but think it is ... to deny me the opportunity to participate," he said.

Why would they bother, when he's only one vote? Because he'll be replaced by a someone who has seen what happens to commissioners with a spine; they lose their cushy, $130,000-per-year jobs.

And that means Skyland will not only get its license next month, but will get it without a word of protest, Argenziano said. "If you have one commissioner describing why this is a bunch of BS, they don't want that commissioner there."

I don't know enough about Tallahassee to guess whether Argenziano is right, don't know enough to predict whether the PSC really will grant this license.

But I do know it shouldn't. The commission's own staff said so in a report released two weeks ago.

A license might allow Evans to pipe water to Orlando or some other distant, thirsty metropolis. It might encourage sprawl by allowing the company to develop rural land before its time.

True, Skyline has said the water could be used for growing and processing biofuels. But in that case, Evans' current agricultural pumping permits would probably suffice; if not, it could create a utility when the time comes.

In other words, if the commission approves Skyline, it's going to have to overlook a whole bunch of BS.

Gutted Public Service Commission's integrity in question 12/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 16, 2010 7:59pm]

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