Friday, March 07, 2008

Ambushing the Public Service Commission

A big decision like the one involving wind power in Delaware is necessarily an adversarial process, with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue. But it's still possible for strong adversaries to play fair. State Senator Harris McDowell surprised Public Service Commission Chair Arnetta McRae and her staff by bringing in a D.C. attorney to cross examine them at a hearing on Wednesday.
The News Journal reports that
McDowell's decision to spend $35,000 to hire Randall Speck is reverberating around Leg Hall:
"Quite frankly, we were very surprised a Washington lawyer was hired to essentially cross-examine the chair of the commission and myself," said PSC Executive Director Bruce Burcat, who said he believed before the hearing they would be questioned by senators.
State Senator Charles Copeland told Allan Loudell last night on WDEL that he knew about the hiring of Randall Speck a week ago. So why couldn't anyone tell the PSC what was about to happen?
"Not to tell someone they're essentially going to be cross-examined, I think, is rude. It sounds like a setup," said Nicholas Di Pasquale, former head of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and current conservation chairman for the Delaware Audubon Society.
Maria Evans of WGMD was there, and has more on the D.C. attorney:
The lawyer’s name is Randall Speck, he’s a Harvard Law School graduate, and according to sources at Legislative Hall, he’s worked on “all sides” of the energy debate. My immediate thought was, “What side is he on today?”
That question was clearly answered by the smiles shooting around the chamber between energy company representatives as Speck questioned the Public Service Commission about their decision to choose a wind farm with a gas plant back up as the new, price stable, energy source for the State. I’m sure after the hearing there was a room somewhere in Dover filled with energy company employees desperately trying to muster up the coordination to successfully execute a few high-fives.
This raises some serious questions: Who gave him his instructions? Did Speck confer with anyone from Delmarva Power or Pepco Holdings in developing his line of questioning? Did Harris McDowell—wittingly or unwittingly—use public funds to help create a record to be used by Delmarva Power in its lawsuit against the Public Service Commission?
The surprise questioning of Arnetta McRae was more than rude. By not informing the PSC of what was coming, McDowell and Copeland put the PSC at a disadvantage by confronting its chair and staff with a highly skilled, well prepared litigator. If the record of the hearing is used in support of a private party against a state agency, then the use of public funds to hire a lawyer to question state officials raises legal and ethical questions I can't begin to sort out.
As I said, the decision to bring wind power is an adversarial process. The PSC conducted an open process with thousands of citizens weighing in. Bluewater Wind won the chance to bring offshore wind power to Delaware by beating out NRG and Conectiv Energy. The Power Purchase Agreement now on the table is the product of months of tough negotiations. A vigorous debate prompts advocates and opponents of the project to sharpen their arguments.
The wind power proposal was developed through a public process. The decision to confront the PSC with hostile questions from a well prepared attorney was made behind closed doors. If you're wondering who represents the public interest, just watch what they do—in public and in private.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Maria's note of the 'smiles ricocheting around the room' tells me something is up.
Giggling all the way to court?
As you say, Tom, if they try to use one iota of this testamony in the ensuing court case, 'they will not know us'. We, the public, will not stand for it.

12:49 PM, March 07, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a lot we can do.

Flush out quality candidates in each of these four's district.

Commit time and resources to campaign against these four in their districts.

Start a PAC supportive of candidates voting for the Wind farm.

Forget writing to the Senators. Write to their constituents instead.

12:47 AM, March 08, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is anyone else ASTONISHED at how little actual TIME the legislature LEGISLATES?
Their light schedule allows them to ignore most of the legislation before them.

7:00 AM, March 08, 2008  

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