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AG Nessel Requests More Transparency on Lobbying Influence by Utilities
February 15, 2023
LANSING – On February 10, 2023, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed comments before the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) in Docket No. U-18238 asking for greater transparency regarding money spent by utilities to influence public policy.
In this docket, the Commission requested comments from interested parties to address potential modifications to the Rate Case Standard Filing Requirements. Because utility rate cases must be completed within 10 months, it is important for the utilities to provide certain documents at the time of filing as well as standardizing certain processes in order to efficiently use the time for in-depth review of the rate increase requests. This docket has been on-going for several years. The recent comment deadline is in response to the Commission staff’s recommendations.
In her latest comment filing, the Attorney General proposed several recommendations, such as reducing the length of a utility’s forecast, requiring the use of cost/benefit analyses to justify expenses, improving disclosure information for multi-jurisdictional utilities, improving litigation processes, and increasing transparency for utility expenses used to influence public policy and achieve rate case outcomes. The recommendations are designed to help the Attorney General and other parties effectively and efficiently review utility rate increase requests.
“Utilities are government created monopolies regulated by the state,” said Nessel. “Accordingly, customers of these monopolies should have the right to know whether and how much their utility is spending to influence legislation or other public policy that impacts the utility and consumers. I am hopeful the Commission will consider these recommendations and implement them for Michigan.”
As to the request for greater transparency on the expenses to include public policy, the Attorney General specifically requested the following:
a. Expenses for the purpose of influencing regulation or legislation directly or indirectly through affiliates.
b. Expenses for the purpose of influencing public opinion about policy issues or about the company’s reputation directly or indirectly through affiliates.
c. Expenses relating to all proceedings before the Commission, with specificity about how and how much the company spent on the previous rate case and how much it forecasted for the current general rate case.
d. The 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) contributions to each non-profit organization, including those organizations receiving contributions from the utility’s affiliated 501(c)(3) charitable foundations.
e. Expenses for any litigation that utilities file seeking to overturn rules or statutes.
In addition, the Attorney General recommended that the above information be provided for the most recent five years and for the forecasted period proposed by the utility in its rate increase request. The MPSC has not issued a deadline for this order.