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Ethics at issue with energy bill

Monday, Apr 19, 2021

* WBEZ on the reform angle of the evolving energy bill

In the House, state Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, is carrying legislation to establish a path for ratepayers to win restitution if a utility company engages in criminal wrongdoing. In its deferred prosecution agreement, ComEd said its corrupt lobbying yielded legislative victories valued at more than $150 million for the company.

Her legislation also would do away with automatic rate increases for ComEd customers based on a preset formula. It would bar utilities like ComEd from billing ratepayers for charitable contributions or for legal fees tied to criminal investigations.

And Williams’ measure would establish a czar to oversee utility ethics compliance at the Illinois Commerce Commission, which regulates utilities.

That czar would have access to a database that ComEd and other utilities would be required to log, showing “requests for anything of value” sought by public officials or their staffs. But those records of potential job or contract asks wouldn’t be directly accessible to the public under current language in Williams’ bill — something she said she’s willing to reconsider.

Her legislation also would prevent ComEd-hired lobbyists from subcontracting, which the company acknowledged in its deferred prosecution agreement as a way political friends of Madigan’s were funneled rewards. That practice, which evaded state lobbying disclosure rules, enabled ComEd lobbyists to hire Madigan associates as consultants, who did little to no work.

“It’s really a shame that we have to babysit the utilities in this way,” Williams told WBEZ. “But unfortunately, ComEd has shown us that they were really willing to make a mockery of the legislative process.”

* AARP Illinois, Illinois PIRG and the Environmental Law & Policy Center recently released a laundry lists of reforms they’d like to see…

Restitution

    Make ComEd really pay for its $200 million settlement by taking it out of future revenues, in turn lowering customers’ bills
    Explore other ways to get money back for ComEd customers, as the General Assembly has done before

Regulation

    End automatic “formula” rate hikes for ComEd and Ameren
    End “Rider QIP,” a mini-formula rate for gas utilities
    Commission an independent audit of ComEd’s grid
    Establish integrated grid planning for ComEd and Ameren
    Provide the Illinois Commerce Commission with increased resources and staffing to effectively carry out its mission

Reform

    End utility political giving
    No longer allow utilities to charge customers for charitable giving

* Related…

* Illinois lawmakers considering legislation that could hike ComEd bills less than a year after utility admitted multimillion-dollar bribery scheme: Since the federal prosecutors announced the bribery case last summer, ComEd has argued that even though the legislative process was tainted, consumers still benefited from its passage and no harm has been done to ratepayers. “It is a preposterous position,” [former Gov. Pat Quinn] said. “It’s OK to use bribery to ‘pass’ good laws? You can’t allow that. You ruin democracy that way.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

9 Comments
  1. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 12:49 pm:

    I’m not sure this measure goes far enough to really address the crux of the issue which is criminal rent seeking from a utility and the fines from the federal government amount to little more than a slap on the wrist.

    If the goal is to disincentivize illegal conduct by a utility the penalty should be that that entity is no longer able to operate in the state with significant restrictions placed upon officers and executives of the company about what business practices they’re allowed to engage in within the State of Illinois going forward. It can be broadened by other companies, but maybe if you’re the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company that engages in blatant criminal activity you shouldn’t be allowed to be an officer or executive of any company doing business within the State of Illinois. This could probably be imposed with a million dollar penalty per year per instance. So, you know, if they really want to keep the band of criminals in charge they have to pay for that on an ongoing basis.


  2. - thisjustinagain - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:02 pm:

    “We had to corrupt the legislative process for consumer’s benefit” is like “we had to destroy the village in order to save it”. Complete and utter nonsense. If utilities are so concerned about consumers, stop overpaying the C-level execs at the top of the food chain, and lower the rates since you still have a monopoly on distribution of services to consumers, regardless of the “competition” from 3rd party providers using your distribution systems.


  3. - cover - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:16 pm:

    Whatever one might think of Pat Quinn, he’s the only Governor I can remember who actually tried to stand up to the utilities - only to be overridden by the General Assembly.


  4. - Ok - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:24 pm:

    So long as Rep. Williams’ bill doesn’t just apply to ComEd, it is a no-brainer. The folks at Nicor, Ameren, and People’s have been abusing the public process just as much as anyone.


  5. - Arnold - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 1:47 pm:

    If you believe the environmentalists and CUB who supported the nuclear bailout and formula rates are now the utility watch dogs you probably also believed Lindsey Graham when he scolded Trump. Credit for the rebrand after their partner in legislation plead guilty.

    Candy has it right: If you plead guilty to corruption, that legislation should be repealed or not renewed, customers paid back the ill-gotten gains, and the entire leadership of both utilities retired. The Governor should appoint someone who will aggressively oversee the utilities to run the ICC. Anything short of that and it’s just more of the same.


  6. - Suburbanon - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 2:22 pm:

    Dropping lobbying and charitable giving from utility rate base, and require extensive disclosure would be a huge step toward curtailing corruption. No more “free” money to throw around. It also is said how well meaning charities and not for profits are leveraged for political gain by utilities. Not sure if that is illegal but it sure is distasteful.


  7. - Arnold - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 2:33 pm:

    Yes but… you can’t curtail lobbying or political donations. Lobbying and donating are protected activities (thanks Citizens United!). Making shareholders pay for it would be nice but the money is all mixed in a blender at a utility. Cash comes in from the captive customers and leadership decides how to split out what they dividend up to the holding company. You need deeply experienced regulators (plural) who can unwind all that if you want the system to have credibility or to achieve what Suburbanon seeks (which has a ton of merit). The existing law has removed that ability from the ICC, as did Rauner’s purges. CEJA creating a ‘czar’ is a good way to get a headline and a bad way to actually regulate since it takes a rather large expert staff to stay in touch with utilities that have literally hundreds of people dedicated to perfecting utility economics.


  8. - Cluster - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 2:41 pm:

    Can they really prohibit subcontracting, even if it is specifically for utilities? Seems like a 1st Amendment issue. Also, there are tons of legitimate subcontracting arrangements in Springfield.

    Also, ending “utility political giving”? Once again, not sure how this is Kosher with the 1st Amendment.


  9. - Odysseus - Monday, Apr 19, 21 @ 4:19 pm:

    “Also, ending “utility political giving”? Once again, not sure how this is Kosher with the 1st Amendment.”

    Why wouldn’t it be kosher? Corporations have no legitimate political interests, only humans do.


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