Regulatory capture is a form of political corruption occuring when a regulatory agency, such as Arizona’s Corporation Commission (ACC), created to act in the public interest, instead advances the special concerns of commercial or interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.
In the same year that Harvard University Center for Ethic’s ranked Arizona as the country’s most corrupt state, the integrity of the ACC was called into question repeatedly, and Commissioners did very little to persuade the public that their agency was any different than the norm for our state.
Led by the affable Bob Stump, the ACC in just two years has taken steps right off the Christmas wish list of Arizona Public Service CEO Don Brandt, including slashing commercial solar incentives to zero in early 2013, rushing into a first-of-its-kind tax on rooftop solar despite a complete lack of analysis from ACC staff (they asked for more time), and treating Arizona’s 15% renewable energy standard as a ceiling rather than a floor.
Now the Commission is considering what could end up being the most backwards step the agency has taken in its history – the abolishment of Arizona’s successful energy efficiency resource standard which requires utilities to be more efficient and has already saved ratepayers an estimated $540 million according to APS’s annual demand side management reports.
Stump has presided over a Commission that has ushered in, by its inaction and silence, an unprecedented era of spending by monopoly APS on public relations and influence. After accidently spending thousands in the 2012 election supporting Stump, Susan Bitter Smith, and Bob Burns, APS opened the floodgates of election cash in 2014, spending a total estimated at over $3 million to ensure two Commissioners friendly to its interests would take office next month.
Starting in January, all five Commissioners will have reached their post at least in part thanks to APS election dollars. Any future candidate for the Commission will now know that to speak out against the utilities might mean getting buried in utility-funded attack ads.
Our Commissioners, tasked by Arizona’s founders with protecting the public by diligently regulating our state’s utilities, have responded with a collective yawn. I’m dreading to find out what the Arizona Captured Commission has in store for 2015.
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