Utility interests go sleazy in targeting PSC's Nancy Argenziano

I'm stickin' up for Nancy.

Nancy Argenziano is the least pro-utility, most skeptical member of the Florida Public Service Commission.

She can be crude. She can be rude. She can be an awful pain in the neck. But she is tough and independent, and she is not going to go along.

Take the PSC's vote last week to allow Progress Energy Florida to start billing in advance for its nuclear plants. The vote was 3-1, with Argenziano the lone dissenter.

Now Argenziano is under a bizarre attack. Certain people in Tallahassee are trying to turn the current scandals at the PSC against her.

The irony is staggering.

After 30 years of a PSC rigged by the Legislature to be in favor of utilities …

After a 30-year parade of PSC members voting for utility profits, and then going off to take jobs with those industries as a payback …

After 30 years of regulators and regulated socializing together, taking ski trips, holding cocktail parties, waging the occasional love affair, passing around ghostwritten speeches and attending conferences together …

After all the scandals this year alone about parties, phone calls, and dozens of contacts between the PSC members or their staffs and the regulated companies …

It's Argenziano who is the target? Give me a break.

Yet the other day, the state's big business lobby, Associated Industries of Florida, piously called for her head.

I loved this quote from Barney Bishop, AIF's president:

"Associated Industries of Florida cannot sit idly by and watch the deterioration of a body that is tasked with making impartial decisions about Florida's regulated industries based on evidence and information brought before them."

Almost immediately after AIF's little show, we learned that the message had been coordinated with Florida Power & Light, the state's biggest electric company.

Really? An electric company scheming to go after a sitting commissioner in the middle of a rate case? Who ought to be investigated here?

As for the nature of AIF's gripe: While some of the other PSC members or their aides are in hot water for being buddy-buddy with utilities, Argenziano's supposed troubles stem from messages she sent to her own aide.

Those messages, now public, are indeed saucy and titillating. Argenziano shares her scorn for other PSC members, calling one a "fool" and an "idiot," and another a "hypocrite." Her aide cheerfully replies that a third is a "mean-spirited anorexic b----."

But the closest thing to an improper action comes when Argenziano asks her aide to try to delay the timing of questions to be asked at a PSC hearing by a utility opponent. Even if this is an improper communication, it's trivial compared to the PSC's history.

As if on cue, a ranking member of the Legislature tut-tutted that these messages "raise serious questions about Commissioner Argenziano's impartiality and her ability to give a fair hearing to those appearing before her."

Puh. Leese.

If the Legislature wants to "clean up" the PSC, it should do now what it should have done 30 years ago. It should ban all contact between the PSC and its staff with regulated parties outside of official proceedings.

Of course, that would deny the utilities their inside track. Instead, the utilities, their hired goons and their friends in the Legislature are making a misdirection play against Argenziano. This is a rank, stinking affair.

Utility interests go sleazy in targeting PSC's Nancy Argenziano 10/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 12:19am]

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