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Wyodak Coal Mine

A Black Hills Power employees monitors a bank of computer screens used to track operations of the Wygen III power plant in Wyodak, Wyo in 2010. Some lawmakers are seeking to require that at least one member of Wyoming's Public Utilities Commission have relevant experience in the industry.

The Legislature will consider requiring Wyoming's governor to appoint people with relevant experience to the state's Public Service Commission.

The bill in question would mandate that at least one member of the PSC — which regulates utility companies and negotiates electrical transmission agreements with other states — have at least five years of experience in a related field.

The Joint Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee voted to sponsor the bill in November but it’s likely to face a tough road to becoming law, with key senators opposed and Gov. Matt Mead defending his current appointments.

Attorney-led commission

Today, all three members of the PSC are lawyers and have previously worked for the Wyoming Attorney General’s office. All three were appointed by Mead, a lawyer himself.

At the end of the Legislature’s 2017 general session, two senators told WyoFile that they worried the PSC was full of attorneys even though it frequently deals with complicated economic issues. Two of the current commissioners were initially rejected by the Senate in 2013 because of such concerns, according to a report in the Casper Star-Tribune. Such rejections by the Senate, which votes to confirm the governor’s appointments, are rare.The Senate later reversed its vote.

The proposed measure could rectify the attorney imbalance for the future, said its chief proponent, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance. It also would bring the commission into line with trade licensing bodies in the state where members tend to have relevant experience, he said.

“If you’re gonna sit on the board of barbering you have to be a barber, and so if you’re going to sit on the public service commission you should at least have some experience with the industry,” Lindholm said.

Tough path through Senate

Though the joint committee voted to sponsor the bill, three of the five ‘no’ votes came from senators. That’s not a good sign for the legislation’s success. Since it does not deal with the state’s budget, the bill will first need to receive a two-thirds vote in the Senate for introduction. From there, it would likely be sent to the Senate Corporations Committee for review, where three out of five members opposed it in November.

Two of those members, Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, and Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, voiced discontent with the all-lawyer PSC to WyoFile last session. However, both said last week that they didn’t want to permanently change statute to reflect their current concerns.

“I don’t really want to tie the governor’s hands,” Case said. “I don’t like that the governor put three lawyers on the service commission that’s for sure, but I’m not willing to say ‘he has to do this, this and this.’”

The current commission is doing a good job, he said.

Scott echoed that sentiment and said that barring a resignation from one of the current members, Mead has made his last appointments to the PSC because his term expires next year and there are no open seats on the commission.

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“We got a lawyer as the governor right now, he tends to appoint lawyers,” Scott said.

Governor defends appointments

In a statement provided through his spokesperson, the governor defended the current commission.

“The Wyoming PSC is top tier,” Mead said. “Its members have a reputation for excellence and have achieved national prominence. Their work is well respected by industry and the public."

The bill also includes language that dictates PSC appointees cannot have a “direct financial interest” in utilities regulated by the commission and only requires one member to have relevant experience. The PSC exists to represent electricity consumers, Lindholm noted, and thus a distance from the utility industry for some commissioners is important.

“I don’t want industry to control the public service commission,” Lindholm said. Commissioners who meet the bill’s requirements “don’t even have to come from industry,” he said, “all I’m asking is that they have experience.”

Lindholm wasn’t optimistic about the bill’s chances, but he said he was ready for the political fight.

“It might not seem like a lot to the public but the bill is controversial,” he said.

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WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy. This article has been lightly edited and condensed for space. The full version can be read at WyoFile.com

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