Safe, reliable, efficient provision of affordable utility service sufficient to meet customer demand is critical to the lives of all New Yorkers and to the state’s economy. The New York Public Service Commission regulates rates, rules and practices of the utilities that provide electricity, natural gas, water, steam, telephone, and cable television service in order to achieve these goals.
The New York PSC was formed in 1907. The state legislature previously regulated utilities and their rates directly, before delegating its powers to the PSC. Normally a five member body, the PSC has been operating with four members since late 2006. The next appointment to the Commission will be made by Governor Eliot Spitzer to fill the vacancy. It is widely anticipated that the new appointee will also be designated by the Governor to be the Chairman.
Under New York Public Service Law Section 4, PSC Commissioners are appointed by the Governor by and with the advice and consent of the state Senate. The statute, however, establishes no specific qualifications for PSC commissioners.
Historically, the role of the New York Commission as the active protector of the public interest has at times been diminished or lost. In the past, Governors have acted to correct the situation. For example, in 1932, former New York Governor and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt described his vision of the PSC:
When I became Governor, I found that the Public Service Commission of the State of New York had adopted the unwarranted and unsound view that its sole function was to act as an arbitrator or a court of some kind between the public on the one side and the utility corporations on the other. I thereupon laid down a principle which created horror and havoc among the Insulls and other magnates of that type.
I declared that the Public Service Commission is not a mere judicial body to act solely as umpire between complaining consumer or the complaining investor on the one hand, and the great public utility system on the other hand. I declared that, as the agent of the Legislature, the Public Service Commission had, and has, a definitely delegated authority and duty to act as the agent of the public themselves; that it is not a mere arbitrator as between the people and the public utilities, but was created for the purpose of seeing that the public utilities do two things: first, give adequate service; second, charge reasonable rates; that, in performing this function, it must act as agent of the public, upon its own initiative as well as upon petition, to investigate the acts of public utilities relative to service and rates, and to enforce adequate service and reasonable rates.
The regulating commission, my friends, must be a Tribune of the people, putting its engineering, its accounting and its legal resources into the breach for the purpose of getting the facts and doing justice to both the consumers and investors in public utilities.
A number of organizations are now calling upon Governor Spitzer to appoint a pro-consumer Commissioner. In an August 10, 2007 letter to Governor Spitzer they stated:
It is vital that you choose from your candidates a nominee who understands consumers’ concerns and has a demonstrated pro-consumer record so that he or she can best represent the public’s interest. * * * * From his or her past experience, your nominee should demonstrate a strong conceptual familiarity with the basic pocketbook issues that every household confronts. Your nominee should also understand the importance of wise investments in building an energy and telecommunications infrastructure that is economically and environmentally sustainable.