PUC Could Get Needed Scrutiny from the Legislative Audit Commission

Your voice is needed now to get more accountability at the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for its poor public engagement process. It’s particularly important given the flawed process and disrespect shown towards opponents of the proposed Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline through northern Minnesota.

Each year, the Minnesota Legislative Audit Commission chooses a small number of research topics to make sure state agencies and programs are well run, are accountable and have appropriate legislative oversight. The Commission has a list of 10 possible research topics for the coming year and a review of the PUC public engagement process is one of the possible topics. This Friday, the Commission will choose the five to get done.

The window of influence is closing quickly, but here is how you can get engaged and make the PUC review a priority.

Quick background

Public Utilities Commission hearings had intimidating security presence. This was by the front door before people got to the hearing room.

People opposed to the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline had their share of frustration and intimidation during PUC hearings. One day, PUC staff had police evict MN350 and the Sierra Club organizers with no warning. Several hearings had overblown and intimidating security presence. A PUC staff member was disrespectful to participants and it was difficult for them to figure out how to file complaints. Rules were arbitrarily enforced to limit participation of the Youth Climate Intervenors. (For more details, see our Dec. 17 blog: PUC Staff Oversteps Authority, Shows Bias Against Pipeline Resisters.)

Here’s the list of 10 possible program audit topics. Page 9 of the PDF has the PUC audit proposal. The PUC has been involved in large and controversial projects such as Enbridge Line 3 and Xcel Energy’s natural gas plant proposal, it says, continuing:

The role of PUC in energy matters is likely to grow as Minnesota’s energy portfolio continues to diversify. Legislators have expressed reoccurring concerns about PUC, and public engagement in recent PUC decisions has been significant. A review by OLA could prove useful.”

The Audit Commission poses the following possible research questions:

What are the commission’s rules for public participation, and to what extent does it enforce these rules appropriately and consistently? To what extent do the commission’s practices affect public participation in its decision-making processes?

Getting Involved

The Legislative Audit Commission Evaluation Subcommittee will meet Friday, April 5, at 9:00 a.m., in room 120 State Capitol to select the five research topics. The full Commission will meet immediately afterward in the same room to approve the topics.

Decisions are happening now. Legislative Audit Commission members already are submitting their top picks, so they need calls and emails right away. (Some might already have turned in their votes, but could potentially change them at the Friday meeting.)

Legislative Audit Commission Members

The Commission is made up of six state Senators and six Representatives. Here is their contact information.

Representatives

Chair: Representative Rick Hansen 407 State Office Building (651-296-6828)
Representative Connie Bernardy 369 State Office Building (651-296-5510)
Representative Sondra Erickson 273 State Office Building (651-296-6746)
Representative Tina Liebling 477 State Office Building (651-296-0573)
Representative Nels Pierson 345 State Office Building (651-296-4378)
Representative Duane Quam 247 State Office Building (651-296-9236)

Senators

Vice Chair: Senator Mark W. Koran 3101 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-5419)
Senator Michelle Benson 3109 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-3219)
Senator Nick A. Frentz  2415 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-6153)
Senator Mary Kiffmeyer 3103 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-5655)
Senator Matt D. Klein 2409 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-4370)
Senator Ann H. Rest 2217 Minnesota Senate Building (651-296-2889)

Sample Email (That Needs to be Personalized)

Dear Senator/Representative _________________

I am writing to urge you to include the review of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s public engagement process as a top priority for the Commission’s review.

I was personally engaged in efforts to stop the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline before the PUC, and was deeply disappointed in the public engagement process and intimidating security procedures.The state should be working towards engaging more people, not trying to push them away.

In case it is helpful, here is my story. [Tell your story here.]

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

One thought on “PUC Could Get Needed Scrutiny from the Legislative Audit Commission

  1. I submitted my comments, including my story of concerns with PUC public engagement to Senator Frentz and Representatives Hansen, Brenardy, Erickson, Liebling, Pearson, & Quam:

    I live in the North Woods of Minnesota and, as such, was unable to attend the PUC hearings in person. However, I relied on being able to see the information being presented via the webcast of the hearings. I was highly disturbed to find that there was little or poor coverage at times of real meaning for the public. When there were outbursts in the hearing room, there was no effort made to show the public space of the room but to simply only show the Commissioners at their desks. In one instance, the webcast was simply cut off leaving me wondering what had happened in the space. Luckily there were live casts from the public in the room that allowed visibility of the process to the public at large.

    Preventing this experience to be visible to those in the more rural parts of our state does not allow for a full experience of our government processes by all citizens. I encourage work to be done for better visibility to in-hearing documents, better camera work to allow all parties who are speaking to be recognized via both audio and video, and assuring that the room audio/video be available even when the Commissioners leave the room in cases of public outcry. It does not serve the public to prevent them from seeing the proceedings in their entirety.

    Thank you for your consideration. And thank you for making it easy to send an email to you all at once as opposed to having to use an email form as five of the other members on your Commission require.

    Like

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