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Bill seeks elected utility consumer counselor

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A legislator is proposing that Indiana’s utility consumer counselor be elected rather than appointed by the governor.

House Bill 1082, filed by Rep. Win Moses, D-Fort Wayne, would place the post on the ballot starting this year, with the term of the elected official beginning next Jan. 1.

The job of utility consumer counselor is currently filled by David Stippler, a former AT&T executive and attorney with Indianapolis-based Bingham McHale LLP. He was appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2008.

The Office of Utility Consumer Counselor intervenes in cases before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and can take legal action in court. It has about 50 employees, including analysts, engineers, economists and attorneys.

Moses proposed a similar bill in the 2010 session, but it died in a house committee.

The bill could get more attention this time around in light of an ethics scandal that erupted in late 2010 at the IURC.

Daniels fired former IURC Chairman David Lott Hardy after it became known Hardy failed to pull administrative law judge Scott Storms from cases involving Duke Energy Corp. while Storms was discussing employment with Duke.

Hardy also appeared to be coaching Storms to get the OK of the state’s ethics review board, all the while mocking the process, e-mails released by the state showed.

Storms was later hired by Duke—then fired—after the scandal embarrassed Duke and the Daniels administration.

E-mails also revealed that Hardy had a chummy relationship with officials at Duke, which has been embroiled in cost overruns at its $3 billion Edwardsport coal-gasification generating plant. Those overruns have been fought at the commission by industrial electric customers and by Indianapolis-based Citizens Action Coalition.

CAC supports the concept of an elected consumer utility counselor, arguing that appointees ultimately are beholden to the agenda of the governor.

Daniels has been a proponent of Duke’s Edwardsport plant, citing its benefits to the state’s coal-mining industry and the potential to reduce air pollution compared with traditional coal-fired plants.

The IURC has for years been a revolving door for employment to and from utility companies.

Last month, a Marion County grand jury indicted Hardy on three counts of official misconduct.

Under Moses’ bill, the elected OUCC chief would receive an annual salary of $100,000, the same as Stippler's salary.

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  • Another Bad Idea
    This is a terrible idea, and what is surprising is that it is coming from a usually reliable, sensible legislator. When I first saw the headline, I thought this bill would have come from one of the neanderthals that comprise the Republican caucuses in both chambers, like Kruse, Banks, Delph or Waterman. People have no idea who they are electing to such offices as Supt of Public Instruction, Sec of State, Auditor or Treasurer. Why would this be any different? The average citizens' understanding of regulatory issues affecting utility matters is pretty thin, in my opinion. And why politicize this? Yes, the Daniels track record with the IURC has been abysmal, but just because of flawed appointments, don't assume that an election would be any better. What next: elections for Court Reporter/Clerk? Oh yeah, we tried that once before. Do we miss that office holder?

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