Chesterton Tribune

Former Indiana energy official gets NIPSCO job, will work on rate cases

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Government watchdog groups are questioning the hiring of a top Indiana state energy policy adviser by one of the state’s largest utilities.

Brandon Seitz started his new job Monday as manager of regulatory affairs for the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. The Indianapolis Star reports. As director of Indiana’s Office of Energy Development, Seitz was Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman’s top adviser on energy policy.

In his new job, Seitz will work on NIPSCO rate issues before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor.

The move alarmed some critics, coming on the heels of a scandal involving Duke Energy’s hiring of the state’s top regulatory attorney, who handled Duke cases. That scandal led to the indictment in December of the utility commission’s former chairman.

The state ethics panel ruled that Seitz’s employment with NIPSCO didn’t violate state law, in part because his office in state government didn’t regulate or license any utility.

The panel also said Seitz had no financial interest in the outcome of any matter between NIPSCO and the state, and Seitz wouldn’t be working as an executive branch lobbyist, seeking to influence state government on policy.

“None of the facts provided suggest that NIPSCO’s offer of employment to Mr. Seitz was extended in an attempt to influence him in his capacity as Director,” the ethics report said.

But Kerwin Olson, executive director of Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana, said Seitz was part of a team that formulated state energy and should avoid the possibility of a conflict of interest.

“It seems pretty murky,” he said.

Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause/Indiana, said a conflict might still exist simply because Seitz had advised the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels on energy issues.

Under Indiana law, state employees who want to move to private industry must wait through a 365-day “cooling-off” period if they were involved personally and substantially with issues affecting the company.

“The Ethics Commission must still be handing out waivers to the cooling-off period like Halloween candy,” Vaughn said.

Seitz referred requests for comment to NIPSCO, whose spokesman, Nick Meyer, said Seitz had not worked only as a policy adviser, not a state regulator.

“As a state employee, he had no role in approving our cases or filings in front of the commission,” Meyer said.

 

Posted 2/27/2012