The Minnesota Legislative Audit Commission voted this morning to review the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC’s) public engagement process, a process that came under heavy criticism during its recent handling of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline case.
(For details, see: PUC Staff Oversteps Authority, Shows Bias Against Pipeline Resisters.)
Legislative Audit Commission Chair Rep. Rick Hansen said there was bipartisan support for the PUC review. “It is somewhat unique, because it’s both public participation but it’s also commerce, energy, environment all kind of wrapped together,” he said after the meeting. “It’s a good and timely topic.”
The Commission consists of six House and six Senate members, with equal representation from both political parties. Each year, it selects a handful of research topics to make sure state programs are well run, are accountable and have appropriate legislative oversight.
The Commission’s PUC evaluation, like other audits, is expected to take around 10 months, said Judy Randall, Deputy Legislative Auditor. A final report is expected by February, in time for the next legislative session.
The Commission will hold a meeting sometime this year to take public testimony on the PUC’s public engagement process. People also can contact Commission staff directly. The Commission has not yet assigned staff to the PUC audit. In the meantime, people can email Randall directly at: Judy.Randall@state.mn.us.
Asked how the PUC review got on the Commission’s short list, Randall said: “A lot of members had a lot of concerns — and had heard a lot of concerns — about the [PUC’s] process and the extent to which public input is being considered in these decisions.”
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray also was “a big advocate and worked hard” to get this issue on the agenda, Randall said.
Members from a coalition of organizations opposed to Enbridge Line 3 had met with Sen. Torres Ray earlier this year to express their frustration with PUC staff, arbitrary rules, and the lack of a clear public complaint process. The Senator promised she would take those concerns to the Legislative Audit Commission and she was good to her word.
Senator Nick Frentz, who sits on the Legislative Audit Commission, played an important role in promoting the PUC study to his colleagues, Torrey Ray and Randall said.
Scope of the Audit
Legislative Audit Commission background materials said the PUC has been involved in large and controversial projects such as Enbridge Line 3 and Xcel Energy’s natural gas plant proposal. (See PDF page 9.) It continued:
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.”
The Legislative Audit Commission poses the following 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?