INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Some consumer groups are criticizing an Indiana
Utility Regulatory Commission member's move to a private organization that
oversees the Midwestern electrical grid.
The state inspector general has cleared Kari Bennett's decision to resign
from the utility commission and become senior corporate counsel the
Carmel-based Midcontinent Independent System Operator, The Indianapolis
Star reported (http://indy.st/1eJuu2o
Indiana law requires state employees to wait for a year after leaving
government to take a job as a lobbyist or with an organization with whom
they negotiated any contracts or made decisions that affected the new
employer. The inspector general found the waiting period didn't apply to
Bennett because she won't be lobbying the utility commission.
Some consumer advocates say the move raises more questions about the
revolving door between utilities and regulators, especially after ethics
questions were raised a few years about coziness between IURC officials
and Duke Energy over a $3.3 billion generating plant project.
"Has the commission learned nothing from the ethics scandal?" said Kerwin
Olson, executive director of Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana. "The
revolving door continues to spin out of control."
Doug Webber, the IURC's general counsel and ethics officer, said Bennett
won't lobby any state offices for the grid organization or the dozens of
electric utilities it represents. Webber said he sought and received
informal approval from the inspector general's office to clear Bennett to
make the move, in an effort to avoid any possible ethics issues.
"This is rock solid," he said.
Webber said MISO wasn't subject to the state utility commission's
jurisdiction and did not have any business relationship with the agency.
MISO is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and
represents more than 40 utilities, including Duke Energy, Indianapolis
Power & Light Co., Vectren and Northern Indiana Public Service Co., all of
which appear before the IURC to seek approval for utility rates and
projects. It also represents some citizens' groups and consumer advocates.
Bennett was appointed to the five-member commission in 2011 after
then-Gov. Mitch Daniels fired David Lott Hardy as its chairman following
disclosure of private meetings he had with Duke Energy executives about
cost overruns at its coal-gasification power plant at Edwardsport in
southwestern Indiana. Hardy also helped the agency's top attorney seek a
job with Duke while helping to oversee the Edwardsport case.
Julia Vaughn, program director for Common Cause/Indiana, said the utility
commission continues to suffer from credibility issues.
"It's discouraging that the IURC and the ethics commission seem to have
forgotten all about the dark cloud of impropriety that continues to hang
over the utility commission," she said.