Regulatory decisions, like democracies, and even social events, generally benefit from broad participation. It is rare that the input from a wide range of interests doesn’t improve the outcome.
In regulatory matters, allowing broad participation is particularly helpful when the folks who usually participate have already reached an agreement. The only opportunity to hear another perspective is by letting others into the process.
Recently, the Shumlin administration in Vermont opposed CLF participating in a public utility proceeding that would determine if Vermont Gas violated a rule requiring them to give notice of significant cost increases, and an appropriate penalty. It was perhaps the first time in Vermont that the entity representing the public opposed CLF’s participation in a public utility proceeding.
It is particularly troubling because Vermont Gas and the Public Service Department have already reached an agreement. Without the participation of others, the proceeding will essentially be listening to one hand clapping. The Board is bound by law to base a decision on the evidence it receives. If all the evidence supports one outcome, there is no question what the result will be.
CLF has actively participated in a range of utility matters in Vermont and throughout New England for decades. As an environmental organization, we have highlighted economic, legal and governance issues that affect our power supply and our environment. In years of litigating about Vermont Yankee, and Seabrook before that, CLF argued the poor economics and heavy burdens these facilities placed on our region’s energy supply. When Vermont Yankee sought to operate for an additional 20 years, CLF provided regulators with evidence about the management’s untrustworthiness that had bearing on its ability to operate the facility and follow the law.
The coziness of the Shumlin administration and Vermont Gas suggests additional input should be welcome. We are all poorer if citizens are shut out of the very processes that decide the future of our energy supply.