Governor Tomblin making no effort to find new PSC commissioner

The Charleston Gazette picked up on the story of the missing PSC Commissioner today. There has been a vacancy on the three-member Public Service Commission for the past eight months and no word from the Governor’s office about when he plans to appoint a new commissioner.

Gazette reporter Andrew Brown filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Governor’s office seeking
“emails from the Governor’s account(s) or his ‘Senior Staff’s’ account(s) related to the possible hiring of a third member of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, from January 1, 2015 to the present” and “other documents or communications involving the governor or his ‘senior staff’ in which they discuss the hiring of a third member of the West Virginia Public Service Commission, from January 1, 2015 to the present.”

While this request turned up a number of communications to the Governor’s office suggesting various people to fill the void on the Commission, it turned up exactly zero communications from or within the Governor’s office following up on any of the recommendations. It appears that Governor Tomblin is not at all serious about filling this vacancy. And he hasn’t been since January.

It’s not like the Commission doesn’t have a lot to do. In the past eight months, all of the state’s major utilities have asked for rate increases:

  • Mountaineer Gas (filed 1/5/15): 4.72% requested
  • Appalachian/Wheeling Power (filed 3/2/15): 4% requested
  • WV American Water (filed 4/30/15): 28% requested
  • Mon Power / Potomac Edison (filed 8/14/15): 12.5% requested

That list doesn’t include the rate cases that were started last year but not decided until this year (including major rate increases for Appalachian/Wheeling Power and Mon Power / Potomac Edison).

The Public Service Commission’s duty includes not just setting rates but also making sure utilities provide reliable service (the PSC has launched major investigations in recent years into electric system reliability, billing problems and, of course, WV American Water’s response to the chemical spill). PSC Commissioner is a big job. It requires an ability to learn arcane regulatory law and a willingness to stand up to the powerful out-of-state holding companies that control West Virginia’s major utilities. Such people do exist in West Virginia. It’s pathetic that Governor Tomblin can’t be bothered to try to find them.

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