Tomblin has been "too busy" to either re-appoint Commissioner Jon McKinney, or appoint a replacement for him since 2011. That's FOUR YEARS that McKinney served at the daily whim of Tomblin. Now McKinney has finally left the utility stable, and Tomblin is content to leave his seat open.
PSC Commissioners that are appointed are supposed to be insulated from political influence by becoming independent once appointed. The appointer (Governor) supposedly loses power over the Commissioner once he/she is appointed. However, by allowing appointments to expire, and the expired Commissioner to continue to serve, a Governor may control the day-to-day decisions of the Commissioner as long as this lasts (4 long years!). If the expired Commissioner makes one misstep, he can be gone the next day if the Governor suddenly decides to appoint someone else. This is a filthy practice that should be illegal. But it's also how Governor-schmoozing corporate utility companies continue to stomp on West Virginia ratepayers.
It's not like Tomblin "doesn't have time" to make any appointments to the PSC. He managed to promptly re-appoint utility lawyer Michael Albert in 2013, when his second term expired. He also managed to appoint Brooks McCabe to the empty seat of former Commissioner Ryan Palmer, when he left in 2014. McCabe is a former legislator who has absolutely no background or education in utilities regulation or consumer protection.
So, who shall fill McKinney's seat, now that it's finally vacated? That's what the Gazette-Mail investigated:
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has no plan to appoint a third member to the West Virginia Public Service Commission, even though several people have expressed interest in the position or recommended others they believe would fit the post.
Emails and communications obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that numerous people have contacted the Governor’s Office since January, asking Tomblin to confirm them for the post or to consider their preferred candidates.
The list of people seeking the governor’s attention include a former state senator, a city mayor, a retired engineer, a member of the state’s rural water association, a managing member at one of Charleston’s largest law firms and a lobbyist for First Energy, the parent company of MonPower and Potomac Edison, two of the state’s largest electric utilities.
Here's two people you DO NOT want to see appointed:
An undated note left for the governor shows that Sammy Gray, the state affairs director and a registered lobbyist for First Energy, called to recommend two people for the commission spot. According to the note, Gray called to let Tomblin know that he supported Mike Castle, the Department of Environmental Protection’s director under Gov. Cecil Underwood, and Sam Cann, a former Democratic state senator from Harrison County, for the seat.
When contacted about his recommendations, Gray sent the request for an interview on to communication officials at First Energy.
“We believe both individuals possess solid experience with policy and energy matters that would help them make rulings in complex regulatory cases,” Todd Meyers, MonPower and Potomac Edison’s external communications manager, wrote in an email response. “Of course, the ultimate decision on who is appointed rests solely with the governor.”
First Energy’s recommendation of candidates for a utility commission, which ultimately regulates the company, is not out of the ordinary, according to Meyers.
“In the past, we have recommended individuals whom we believe to be qualified candidates for similar positions, both in West Virginia and elsewhere in our service territory,” Meyers wrote. “Again, others ultimately make the decisions on who is selected.”
Who else has been recommended?
In an email from April, Michael Basile, a managing member at Spilman Thomas & Battle, a Charleston law firm that represents clients like the West Virginia Energy Users Group in front of the PSC, asked the governor to consider attorney Susan Basile, his wife.
In the 1990s, Michael Basile worked for Gov. Gaston Capterton, the Attorney General’s Office, the West Virginia Development Office and later assisted in the transitions of Gov. Bob Wise and Gov. Joe Manchin. Basile, who has served as chairman of the Charleston Area Alliance and the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce, also is a registered lobbyist at the state capitol, where he has represented companies like DuPont, Chevron, Chesapeake Energy, DIRECTV and Dish Network.
In his email, Basile credited his wife’s qualifications and said she was a “big fan/supporter of GERT,” apparently referencing an acronym for Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.
Amy Swann, director of the West Virginia Rural Water Association, suggested the governor should consider one of her longtime colleagues and former PSC employee, Dina Foster.
Swann said Foster — now the manager of the Pea Ridge Public Service District, in Cabell County — has first-hand experience in utility issues and has the personal characteristics needed to make a good commissioner. With so many important issues being decided by the PSC, Swann said, Foster would be a valuable addition to the commission.
When Bill Wooten, a former Democratic state senator from Raleigh County, contacted the Governor’s Office earlier this year, he was hopeful he would be appointed.
With his experience in utility regulation from a legal and legislative policy perspective, Wooten thought he was qualified for the position, and he believed in his ability to weigh the needs of utility companies and their customers.
John Manchester, the mayor of Lewisburg, also submitted his credentials for consideration.
Manchester, who previously worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority and has dealt with utility regulation as Lewisburg’s mayor, said his experience has prepared him for the position.
“I pride myself on being a mediator, a man who tries to find solutions to issues,” Manchester said.
Allan Tweddle, a resident of Kanawha City and a semi-retired engineer, put his name in after having several people ask him to apply.
In his communications with the Governor’s Office, Tweddle listed a long list of people who could testify to his “commitment” and “open-mindedness.” While Tweddle worked with Southern California Edison, an electric utility on the West Coast during his career, he said he has absolutely no connection to any regulated utility in the state.
“We urge you to appoint a new commissioner as quickly as possible so that this investigation can be resolved,” Cathy Kunkel, a member of the Advocates for a Safe Water System’s steering committee, wrote in a letter to the governor in April. “Furthermore, we hope that anyone you appoint to the Public Service Commission will have experience in utility regulation and be independent of West Virginia’s major utility interests.”
"While the utilities are experts at running their business, it doesn’t always mean that they are right,” said Jacqueline Roberts, director of the consumer advocate division.
We've got enough utility influence from Chairman Albert already. And we've got our political favor in Commissioner McCabe. Now it's time to appoint one for the consumers.
Tell "GERT" to get off his dead ass and get busy. Maybe your suggestion can be featured in a future Gazette-Mail article?