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Corporation Commission Tries to Protect Turf in Electric Debate, Senator Easley Urges Panel Not to Sabotage Consumer Benefits

The State Corporation Commission was simply trying to protect its "political turf," not Oklahoma consumers, when it issued a report citing objections to an electric deregulation bill earlier this week, according to the Senate author of deregulation bill.

State Senator Kevin Easley called the commission's action a case of "petty politics," noting that the regulatory panel has consistently fought deregulation because it doesn't want to lose its political power over the electric industry. The commission is currently in charge of regulating electric utilities, but deregulation would greatly reduce its authority.

"The Corporation Commission's opposition has nothing to do with consumers and everything to do with politics. They're just trying to protect a piece of their political turf and they don't care if consumers get hurt in the process. They know that deregulation is going to bring costs down for the average ratepayer, but they can't stand the thought of losing one of their regulatory fiefdoms," said Senator Easley, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environmental Resources and Regulatory Affairs Committee.

In a report issued Wednesday, the Corporation Commission said it could not support the electric deregulation legislation because it did not contain adequate consumer protections. Senator Easley pointed out that the report did not mention the protections contained in his original bill, SB 220.

Those protections include:

  • An additional five-year freeze would be placed on consumer rates. When combined with an earlier freeze contained in SB 888 passed in 1998, consumers would enjoy capped rates for a 10-year period;

  • Telephone solicitations by competing electric providers would be prohibied;

  • A $10,000 fine would be imposed for "slamming" and "cramming" -the unauthorized changing of services or billing items without the written consent of a consumer;

  • A toll-free hotline would be established to handle consumer complaints;

  • A consumer education program would be established to ensure that Oklahomans understand their rights and opportunities in a restructured electric marketplace;

  • Electric companies will be required to provide clear and concise billing and contract information to consumers;

Although a House committee removed some of the consumer language, Senator Easley said it would be reinserted in the final bill "I will not bring a bill to the floor that does not contain the strongest possible protections for Oklahoma consumers. The whole goal of this process is to reduce costs for ratepayers and I won't support any legislation that doesn't move us in that direction," said Senator Easley.

The legislator said he found it interesting that the Corporation Commission would issue a report passing final judgment on electric deregulation legislation, even though the proposal is not yet in its final form.

"It's like a movie critic writing his review before they're even done shooting the film. The commissioners haven't even seen a final draft and they're already condemning the entire project. You really have to wonder what their motivations are and whether they're just trying to poison the well on the whole electric deregulation process. That's not in the best interest of consumers," said Senator Easley.

Contact info
Senate Communications Division - (405) 521-5605