On the issues
How would you assess the performance of the current Public Service Commission?
The current PSC has a well-deserved, dismal reputation. From poor attendance at hearings on the part of some commissioners to the well-publicized episodes of bickering and spying between members, public perception of the PSC is that it is dysfunctional. Recent decisions to impose rate increases on homeowners and farmers while granting rate cuts to corporate box stores are evidence that the commission is deaf to the needs of regular Montanans. To be brutally honest, transparency and fairness have declined considerably under this commission.
Utility regulation is highly technical work that involves complex legal and engineering issues. What experience do you have that makes you confident you’ll be able to effectively parse detailed briefing materials and fairly evaluate competing arguments from business representatives and environmental advocates?
As a person who brought many, many bills to make utility regulation more fair to consumers, I'm familiar with the laws governing utility regulation. I know where they've "buried the bodies." As a four-term legislator, I have a lot of experience parsing the competing arguments of attorneys and lobbyists. As a university physics instructor, I'm pretty darn familiar with technical issues surrounding power generation and distribution. In my younger years, I ran businesses such as hotels and transportation companies. I think I will bring a wealth of technical, legal and business experience to the position.
In addition to energy companies, the PSC regulates telephone companies, garbage haulers and passenger motor carriers. There has been some discussion in recent years about adding hospital oversight to the commission’s responsibilities as well. Do you think the PSC has appropriate regulatory scope?
The job of the PSC is to balance the needs of consumers with the monopolies that serve the public. The fact is, hospitals are currently engaging in price gouging because they ARE indeed monopolies. For example, yesterday, I was billed $200 for a lab test that could not have cost more than 10 bucks. So… yes I do think the PSC has the regulatory scope to rein in hospitals and I wrote a bill to do just that (HB 747). Some might think that setting hospital rates would require medical expertise, but health care prices are already costed (by zip code) and published by Medicare. Setting a limit based on these guidelines is not rocket science. Hospitals HATE this idea of reference based pricing because they would far rather charge whatever they want.
Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on climate change considerations?
Nope. They have recently refused to even hold a discussion on it.
Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on preserving the economic benefits of coal generating plants in Colstrip and Sidney?
I think that they have shown adequate concern for the economic benefits of coal. The PSC needs to do a better job of planning for the inevitable transition away from coal. Washington and Oregon have made it crystal clear that they don't want to buy coal-generated power from us after 2025. Other power sources have become FAR less expensive than coal. That's the new reality we need to face. If we fail to plan… plan to fail.
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