PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ALLOWS UTILITIES TO KEEP SECRETS-- Andrew Stelzer02/26/04
There soon may be a constitutional challenge to the confidentiality which FloridaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Public Service Commission, grants to utility companies. WMNF reporter Andrew Stelzer has the story -----------------------------------
Act Ã¢â‚¬Å“The PSC is making decisions that are worth millionsÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬?
Ben Wilcox is with Common Cause, a group supporting citizen involvement in government. Today, Common Cause has released a study about the effectiveness of FloridaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Public Service Commission, in protecting the rights of consumers.
ACT Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ã¢â‚¬Â¦the public has a right to see this infoÃ¢â‚¬?
In Florida, when a utility company request is for a rate increase, that request goes to the Public Service Commission, or PSC. But that company can ask that part or all of the information used to ask for that request be kept secret--forever. In the past 4 months, there have been 390 requests for confidentialityÃ¢â‚¬â€in one example, DecemberÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s telephone rate increase, the states three largest phone companies refused to disclose how they could raise prices without making a profit. The phone companies argued that this information was a Ã¢â‚¬Å“trade secretÃ¢â‚¬?, and these requests were grantedÃ¢â‚¬â€and in fact, requests for confidentiality are granted 99 percent of the time.
Walter Dartland is with the Consumer Federation of the Southeast: ACT Ã¢â‚¬Å“In the Ã¢â‚¬Â¦and they always get in because they are so broadÃ¢â‚¬?
Dartland himself has requested information from the PSC
ACT Dartland Ã¢â‚¬Å“When we go to a rate placeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦the info is blacked out page after page like a CIA documentÃ¢â‚¬?
How much is this secrecy costing consumers?
ACT Ã¢â‚¬Å“Its hard to estimate, but in the Tampa electric case, it could be as much as 50 million dollarsÃ¢â‚¬?
The study looked at 16 states, and found Florida to be one of the worst; most other states has limits on how long information was kept secret
One of the problems is that the Office of Public control, which is supposed to investigate utility companies, does not have enough staff to effectively keep their eyes on the utilities. Again, Ben Wilcox
ACT Wilcox Ã¢â‚¬Å“Its an institutionalized process---claim they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have the time of the staffÃ¢â‚¬?
Common Cause and the Consumer Federation of the southeast are asking for 3 changes to the way the way the PAC does business. Stricter standards for confidentiality, more funding and staff for the office of public council strengthened, and setting time deadline for confidentiality, so that the information would eventually be made public. A group called the 1st amendment foundation is considering challenging the law, which allows confidentiality as unconstitutional, because of FloridaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s sunshine laws. Common Cause is asking the people of Florida to join their group and support reform of these laws, or the constitutional challenge.
ACT Wilcox If things are done in secret, people donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t trust it
Although Wilcox says that the idea of changing the rules allowing secrecy have some support among the Florida legislature, it will be a tough battle.
ACT Dartland Unfortunately the system does work, the people with money get the decisions, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all about money and campaign contributions
The 1st amendment foundation will determine whether to issue a constitutional challenge in the next two weeks. If you are interested in supporting the release of more information to consumers, go to www.commoncause.org or www.consumerfederationse.com
FOR WMNF news, I'M Andrew Stelzer