Stop the Public Service Dysfunction

On multiple occasions in the last few years, the PSC has demonstrated it is interested in anything but the public or service

By John Repke

 The Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) is again in the news – and as usual, it is not good for Montana ratepayers. In this latest attempt to undermine its legitimacy, the PSC is considering a change of rules to limit public comment on issues that come before it.

On multiple occasions in the last few years, the PSC has demonstrated it is interested in anything but the public or service. For this reason, the latest news is not surprising, but again puts a spotlight on the continued dysfunction at this agency. As several newspaper articles point out, the current all-Republican commission has a dismal track record. Recent ill-informed PSC decisions relating to renewable energy projects have been overturned, as has the recent attempt by the PSC to charge the media $31,000 for access to public information – information to which the public is entitled under the “right to know” clause in Montana’s Constitution. Worse yet, these court reversals come on the heels of a routine state audit of the PSC in 2021, revealing “several situations indicative of an unhealthy organizational culture and ineffective leadership.” If this isn’t bad enough, still pending is an unresolved $2.4M lawsuit pertaining to email theft and a phony police investigation instigated by one commissioner against another. The bottom line is that the PSC’s purpose is to represent the public. And concerns of the public need to be heard, particularly in complex rate cases. Not only does our state constitution guarantee the public a “right to know,” which the PSC violated in the fee-charge case, it also guarantees the public a “right to participate” in agency actions – a right the PSC now seeks to curtail. Intervenors are already required to demonstrate legitimate reason to participate, and their involvement is essential for a fully developed record. Alternative positions, expert testimony, development of data requests, cross examination, and legal briefs are needed to balance the utilities’ inherent advantages in the analysis of the issues. If the commissioners were unpaid volunteers subject to excessively long days of hearings, there might be some sympathy, but they are not. They are well paid – $112,443 plus benefits – andfrom what I have seen, don’t work very hard to earn that high rate of pay. In fact, at the many meetings I have attended, commissioners are frequently absent.

Frankly, the last thing this PSC should do is limit public comment. The first thing the PSC should do is get its house in order. This will not happen if we continue to elect commissioners who are not capable of, or interested in, doing the job. Montanans should not tolerate – especially while paying for – the embarrassment the PSC has become. I am running for Public Service Commissioner in District 5 (Flathead, Lewis & Clark, Lake, and Teton counties) because I have the expertise, integrity, and work ethic to do the job right and will return the PSC to the respected agency all Montanans deserve. I will put public and service back into the PSC.

John Repke

Democratic candidate for PSC5

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