PSC Commissioner Ryan Palmer resigns

Big news out of the Public Service Commission yesterday.

Commissioner Ryan Palmer resigned to take a new position at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. Mr. Palmer’s departure leaves a gaping whole on the Commission. Mr. Palmer has been a strong advocate for ratepayer interests, taking the unusual step of writing a dissenting opinions in a recent high profile case (see here and here). The loss of Mr. Palmer is bad news, not just for the investigation of WV American Water but for all cases before the PSC.

Immediately after Mr. Palmer announced his resignation, the Public Service Commission issued an order announcing a delay in the general investigation AND PSC Chairman Mike Albert’s decision to recuse himself from the case. That leaves just one Commissioner, Jon McKinney, to preside over the general investigation until someone else is appointed by the governor. Mr. McKinney, a former manager at the Monsanto plant in Nitro, has established himself as an uncritical champion of utility interests on the Commission. Mr. Albert could have recused himself at any time in the past three months, but that would have meant leaving the investigation to both Mr. McKinney and Mr. Palmer.

These events leave the PSC investigation in a bizarre situation. Mr. McKinney’s term expired in 2011. He has been occupying his seat since 2011 without having been officially re-appointed by the governor. This is a perfectly legal situation; Mr. McKinney is allowed to continuing serving in his post until he is re-appointed or someone else is appointed to replace him.

In theory, PSC commissioners are appointed for six-year terms so that they can be relatively independent from the governor’s office; unlike some gubernatorial appointments, they serve for terms, rather than serving at the will and pleasure of the governor. But not Mr. McKinney, who could be replaced at any time.

Now the governor has two seats he can fill – Mr. Palmer’s and Mr. McKinney’s. Yesterday’s Gazette article quotes a spokesperson from the governor’s office stating that the delay in the investigation gives the governor more time to appoint someone to replace Mr. Palmer. Who will he appoint?

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