Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dog and Pony Shows

It’s always depressing to see political processes devolving in an infantile direction. A case in point came up in today’s news when the Columbus Dispatch reported that another dozen or so groups wish to be added to the current list of over 30 groups and companies that hope to weigh in on the regulatory reworking of the rates for American Electric Power (AEP).

Leaving aside any question of what should be done with the rates, it’s distressing to see the trends highlighted by this issue. According to the Dispatch, groups of companies, industries, schools, churches, farmers, and various consumer factions are all keen to be heard, despite the fact there few things are more mind-deadening or inconsequential than an afternoon of public comment on a rate increase.

And of course, all the hours of testimony could be boiled down to the same thing. Everyone wants to pay less, and to have others pay more. Well, that’s alright, but here’s the overlooked issue. All these people already have representation on this matter – in fact, they have multiple ones.

To start with, everyone has a representative and a senator within the Ohio General Assembly, which has oversight responsibilities on all utility matters. Secondly, for those within the AEP area, there are elected county commissioners and municipal officials representing their interests.

Next, the taxpayer is served by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), which is run by commissioners appointed by the Governor, who makes his appointments with the assistance of a Nominating Council, comprised of individuals from various credentialed parties. The PUCO then retains numerous professionals on its staff who keep it abreast of every issue that could affect consumers. Finally, the PUCO takes input from the Ohio’s Consumer Council, another state bureaucracy, created for the purpose of advocating “consumer” views.

All the same, despite all these entities functioning on the taxpayer’s dime, one still hears the argument that more input is needed. Accordingly, regulators go through the motions of holding lengthy public comment sessions, which are little more than dog and pony shows for those eager to trot out their grievances and sense of victimhood. It’s pretty much a sham process, and its evolution has had a corrupting affect on our governing institutions. (Meanwhile, we’re not getting enough power plants built.)

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