Blumenthal Calls on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to Fully Fund Office of Public Participation, Give Consumers a Voice in Ratemaking Decisions

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) is calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take steps to ensure the Office of Public Participation is given resources necessary to fulfill its mission. The Office of Public Participation was created by Congress in 1978 to give consumers a seat at the table in ratemaking decisions that affect their household energy bills, but FERC has still not established it. In a letter to FERC today, the senator urged the commission to fully fund the Office of Public Participation.

“Congress created this office nearly 40 years ago to give consumers a seat at the table in ratemaking decisions,” Blumenthal wrote. “The office is intended to facilitate the work of public interest groups whose participation ‘substantially contribut[es]’ to proceedings before the Commission. Consumers deserve a strong and effective voice in important FERC decisions that affect their household energy bills. Funding this office is an important step towards ensuring consumers’ interests are heard. I urge FERC to fund this office and finally give consumers the voice they were promised in 1978.”

The full text of the senator’s letter is available below:

Dear Chairman Bay:

I write today to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) to take steps to ensure the Office of Public Participation is given resources necessary to fulfill its mission, pursuant to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978. Congress created this office nearly 40 years ago to give consumers a seat at the table in ratemaking decisions. The office is intended to facilitate the work of public interest groups whose participation “substantially contribut[es]” to proceedings before the Commission. Consumers deserve a strong and effective voice in important FERC decisions that affect their household energy bills. Funding this office is an important step towards ensuring consumers’ interests are heard.

          At present, several regional transmission operators (RTOs) and independent system operators (ISOs) play large roles determining the electricity rates paid by consumers. The Commission encouraged the creation and operation of these private organizations with the goal of promoting market-based rates, yet consumers have little to no voice in the RTO and ISO decision-making.  FERC provides vital forum for independent review of these decisions. However, as you are aware, FERC proceedings are complex administrative matters and any party wishing to participate must invest substantial resources to, for example, hire economic analysts and other expert witnesses, and perform the comprehensive research needed to describe their positions before the Commission. Unfortunately, consumers’ interests are currently underrepresented in FERC proceedings and the RTO-ISO rates may fail to reflect competitive and just rates for electricity.

          Funding the Office of Public Participation does not require a separate act from Congress. When Congress changed the FERC to a self-funded agency in 1986, it determined agency-collected fees were sufficient to fund all of the Commission’s operations, including the statutorily created Public Participation office. Looking across the country, we see evidence that this office would benefit consumers. Several states have consumer advocacy programs strikingly similar to the one envisaged by Congress in 1978 and consumers in those states have seen real results.

          The Commission should perform its statutorily mandated duty and fund the Office of Public Participation. Similar state entities, like the Office of Consumer Counsel in Connecticut, have shown how essential such offices are for advocating for consumers. As more ratemaking decisions come under FERC’s jurisdiction, we must ensure all consumers have a voice at the table. Currently, there is little consumer representation in the current landscape of utility rate decision making despite Congress’ express intent decades ago. The complexity of this landscape has increased substantially since then, which only highlights the need for a consumer advocate in these proceedings. I urge FERC to fund this office and finally give consumers the voice they were promised in 1978.

Sincerely,

###