PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION ALLOWS UTILITIES TO KEEP SECRETS-- Andrew Stelzer

02/26/04

There soon may be a constitutional challenge to the confidentiality which Florida’s Public Service Commission, grants to utility companies. WMNF reporter Andrew Stelzer has the story -----------------------------------

Act “The PSC is making decisions that are worth millions…�

Ben Wilcox is with Common Cause, a group supporting citizen involvement in government. Today, Common Cause has released a study about the effectiveness of Florida’s Public Service Commission, in protecting the rights of consumers.

ACT “…the public has a right to see this info�

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 confidentiality—in one example, December’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 “trade secret�, and these requests were granted—and in fact, requests for confidentiality are granted 99 percent of the time.

Walter Dartland is with the Consumer Federation of the Southeast: ACT “In the …and they always get in because they are so broad�

Dartland himself has requested information from the PSC

ACT Dartland “When we go to a rate place…the info is blacked out page after page like a CIA document�

How much is this secrecy costing consumers?

ACT “Its hard to estimate, but in the Tampa electric case, it could be as much as 50 million dollars�

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 “Its an institutionalized process---claim they don’t have the time of the staff�

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 Florida’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 don’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 it’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

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