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Consumer Advocate Position Needed At Top Energy Regulator

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) serves a prominent role promoting smart grid and demand response programs. Participating in FERC proceedings on these and other matters, however, is challenging for consumer organizations because the highly technical nature of FERC dockets require significant specialized and costly resources unavailable to organizations representing household consumers. In a recent meeting with White House officials, Public Citizen urged the Obama Administration to formally endorse our efforts to establish an Office of Consumer Advocate at FERC along the following principles:

A. The director of the Office should be appointed by the President.

B. The Office should be organized in a way to maximize independence, including financing clearly allocated to support the activities of the office.

C. The office must be able to conduct its own investigations not limited to the scope of FERC dockets or proceedings.

D. The office should include authority to provide intervenor funding to consumer groups to encourage their participation in FERC proceedings.

E. There should be an advisory board to the Office, composed of several representatives of the non-governmental consumer advocacy community, including slots for organizations representing low-income households and the elderly, and for both national and state-based consumer organizations.

Over the years, Congress has recognized the need for enhanced consumer assistance before FERC. Below is a summary of such efforts.

1. Congress establishes an Office of Public Participation at FERC as part of the 1978 Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. This Office has never been appropriated and has never been set up by FERC. This shows the hazards of creating an office lacking explicit financing.

2. Section 253, “Office of Consumer Advocacy” passed the Senate version of HR 6, the Energy Policy Act of 2003. It places the office in the Department of Justice (rather than within FERC).

3.  Section 198 of Waxman-Markey H.R.2454 – Office of Consumer Advocacy.  Places it at FERC, and gives it broad investigatory responsibilities.

4. Section 151 of the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill S.1733,  which largely mirrors the Waxman-Markey version.

5. November 2010 – NARUC resolution passes supporting the establishment of a “Federal Office of Consumer Advocacy” at FERC.

6. California provides Intervenor Funding to public interest firms participating in Public Utility Commission proceedings.  Such financing is essential to the existence of a robust public interest presence before the California PUC.

-Tyson Slocum is Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Follow him on twitter at @tysonslocum