In a New York Minute, Governor Paterson Appoints and Senate Confirms James Larocca as New PSC Commissioner

In his last year of office, former Governor Pataki picked three new members of the five member New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) for six year terms, seemingly making it difficult for successive governor(s) to appoint a majority. See Appointments by Pataki Leave a Lasting Stamp. Former Governor Spitzer appointed one commissioner, and only after his first choice did not receive state senate confirmation. See Governor Spitzer Asked to Name Pro-Consumer PSC Chair; Governor Spitzer Nominates NYISO Executive for PSC Post – First Choice for PSC Chairman Withdraws.

As we pointed out last summer, due to a Commissioner’s resignation with four years left of her term and term expirations of two other commissioners coming up in February 2009, Governor David Paterson will soon have the opportunity to name a majority of members to the PSC. See Will Governor Paterson Repurpose the Public Service Commission to Protect Consumers?, PULP Network, August 28, 2008.

Similarly, in Connecticut, Governor Jodie Rell has the opportunity to reconstitute a majority of that state’s utility regulator, the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control (CPUC). See Rell Can Put Her Own Stamp on DPUC, New Haven Register, Dec. 15, 2008.

Thus, the two adjacent states with the highest electric rates in the continental United States (20.24 cents/kWh for Connecticut residential customers, 19.42 cents/kWh for New York customers) according to EIA are about to change some of their state utility regulators. Indeed, Governor Rell named two new CPUC commissioners today.

When the New York State Senate convened on December 15th, it was with the announced intention of addressing state budget issues. However, what it did instead was to confirm numerous appointments to state agencies. With no public announcement or press release before or after the appointment, Governor Paterson apparently named Long Island Power Authority Board Chairman James Larocca to fill a vacant Commissioner position at the state Public Service Commission, for a term which runs until February 2012. Larocca was immediately confirmed by the State Senate with no advance public notice. See Deficit Falls off Session Agenda: Special Senate Meeting Accomplishes Little Other than Job Confirmations, Times Union, Dec. 16, 2008.

According to a December 16, 2008 LIPA Press Release, Larocca “was appointed last week by Governor David Paterson and confirmed yesterday by the NYS Senate as a member of the New York State Public Service Commission, effective immediately,” but the Governor’s press releases last week, which included news about closing a state-run pheasant farm, did not mention the appointment.

Larocca has been prominent in New York State government and industry since the 1970s. He was

  • Deputy Secretary for Federal Affairs and, later, state Commissioner of Energy from 1977 to 1983 under Governor Carey
  • State Commissioner of Transportation from 1983 to 1985 under Governor Cuomo
  • A former partner in the law firm of Cullen and Dykman, a major client of which was Brooklyn Union Gas, the utility that merged with the Long Island Lighting Company to form KeySpan, which has since been acquired by National Grid.
  • A former board member of KeySpan
  • A trustee of the New York Power Authority
  • KeySpan Distinguished Professor of Public Policy at Long Island University (where he taught courses on the environment, coastal resource management, government, and associated fiscal issues and public policy)
  • CEO of the Long Island Association, a business group
  • Chairman of the Long Island chapter of the Nature Conservancy
  • Chairman of and the Long Island Regional Planning Board
  • Chairman of the Board of the Long Island Power Authority until his PSC appointment. “Larocca was confirmed for the PSC post Monday night by a Senate vote, and tendered his resignation at LIPA Tuesday.” LIPA Chairman Resigns to Take State Post.

He also ran for Governor in 1998 and was considered for appointment to be State Comptroller in 2006. With his background in public service, knowledge of government administration and business, decades of involvement in energy and utility issues, and obvious ambition, we surmise that Larocca may prove to be a very active commissioner, if not a future Chairman. According to Newsday,

Larocca, in an interview Tuesday, said the PSC post will give him “an opportunity to play a broader role in New York State energy policy.”

It is not clear, however, whether he will prove to be a consumer-oriented commissioner who will enforce vigorously the Home Energy Fair Practices Act and the Telephone Fair Practices rules, and act to alleviate the problems many low-income consumers have due to unaffordable utility service. Other states are decades ahead of New York in making service affordable to the poor.
Meanwhile, the New York Commission

Terms of two additional PSC Commissioners expire in February. The process to fill those seats must be more open and not so secretive.

Update
12/17/08 — Groups Blast Secretive Public Service Commission Appointment Process: Unannounced Lame Duck Senate Confirmation Surprises Environmental, Good Government, Media, and Legal Services Groups.

According to Newsday, “LIPA had known of Larocca’s planned departure since before the budget was released in November….” LIPA chairman Larocca resigns; to join PSC.

12/19/08 — Normally the PSC is quicker than Stalin to put new Commissioners on its letterhead and website. Today, four days after his confirmation, Commissioner Larocca joined the PSC website.

At 3 PM on Fridayin the midst of a major snowstorm, assuring the story will be buried in low readership Saturday papers, the Governor announced the fait accompli of his appointment of Commissioner Larocca and his Senate confirmation on December 15 in a press release “Governor Paterson Announces Administration Appointments“.

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