Troubles With The Corporation Commission
Original article by Gabe Acosta
The Corporation Commission, Arizona’s 4th branch of government, has come under recent scrutiny for its regulatory and electoral dealings. This branch of government, which plays an understated role in everyone’s lives, has been accused by some of unethical, if not unlawful, dealings with those who it is supposed to regulate.
Article 15 of the Arizona Constitution establishes the Arizona Corporation Commission. The Arizona Corporation Commission is a group of five people elected to four year terms that regulate the public utilities in Arizona. Their most important duty, and the one that lands the commission in the most controversy, is their control over electrical utilities. This includes regulating the powerful utility-corporations that keep the air conditioning and lights on. In addition, they also control a lot of the regulations around solar panels. Their power extends towards regulations for installation and safety for utilities, and importantly setting prices for electricity. It is the responsibility of the commission to balance the need for cheap energy for the Arizona consumer and the profits of utility companies. Some say that this balance has been tipped.
The Corporation Commission has come under recent scrutiny for their relationship to Arizona Public Service, the biggest utility company that provides electricity to the majority of Arizonans. APS, through its parent corporation Pinnacle West Capital Corp., spent more than 10 million dollars in the 2016 election to elect 3 commissioners who were seen as sympathetic to APS, or at least more sympathetic than the two democrats on the ballot. Pinnacle West asserts that this money is from what would otherwise be considered profits from the company, and not from the taxpayer. However, considering that many consumers do not have an alternative company to buy from besides APS, this seems like a hollow defense.
If the allegations against APS are true, it could lead to an ethics backlash. Corporation Commissioners who owe APS for their election could be more in favor of pro-APS policies. For example, APS has also come out as an opponent to the burgeoning solar movement in Tucson. They have worked to enact several policies that hurt people who have solar panels on the roof of their home, including changes to net metering and reducing the rates at which home users are reimbursed for energy. These anti-solar policies have been pushed by APS backed commissioners in the past.
Despite this, a company contributing to the body that regulates the company is more of a violation of the company’s internal rules and guidelines than an unlawful act.
The firewall between the utility and its regulators, even though not required by law, seemed appropriate considering the company could effectively help elect regulators who would in turn boost the company’s finances at the expense of its customers. – Ryan Randazzo, http://www.azcentral.com
According to APS, they are volunteering all pertinent information. Though once again, this is according the legal definition of transparency rather than a set ethical standard.
APS officials said they are making the policy public in an effort to increase transparency. ‘This voluntary report goes beyond our legal requirements to provide additional information about our contributions,’ APS spokeswoman Anna Stewart said. ‘Pinnacle West supports organizations and issues that further our mission of creating a sustainable energy future for Arizona.’ – http://www.azcentral.com
However, one member of the commission takes issue with this. Commissioner Robert Burns is suing APS for information about how they participated in the 2014 election.
‘It’s fine they want to come out with a policy, but a policy that reports that far after the (November) election doesn’t meet muster,’ Burns said. ‘The other part is, who is going to enforce the policy? If they write it and it is not established policy at the commission with the force of law to support it, who is going to enforce it?’- Com. Burns, http://www.azcentral.com
This story is still ongoing, and it is worth the read to look at the attached articles. But, the idea of a publically regulated industry with the power to help elect those who will help their profit margin is troubling. While campaign financial issues in general have weakened the American conception of democracy, this possible infraction by APS is very troubling because of the effectiveness of the outcomes and the wide breadth of its effects.
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