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State Level Positions Can Wield Significant Power

Sep 21, 2022

In all 50 states there are regulatory agencies known as public service commissions or public utility commissions- and in some states they’re even called commerce commissions.  Although their specific oversight might vary from state to state, the overarching duty is to regulate essential utility services. Typically governed by a board of three to seven individuals, who are either appointed or elected, these regulatory entities also have staff to support them in their work.

In Michigan, we have the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC), which regulates energy, such as electricity and natural gas, and components of the telecommunications industry.  I had the pleasure of receiving a gubernatorial appointment to the MPSC and served for over six years.  Like other gubernatorial appointments, my appointment was subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and I had to go through the confirmation process. However, service on the MPSC differs from other appointments in one key way. While most other appointments are voluntary in nature, my appointment was a full-time position with certain statutory limitations on serving in other state roles and employment opportunities.

In my role as commissioner, my primary responsibility was to “protect the public by ensuring safe, reliable, and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates for Michigan’s residents.”  Topics we touched on ranged from cyber security to EV infrastructure development, to low-income affordability, to renewable energy deployment.  Commissioners also act in a quasi-judicial manner, making decisions based on evidence, testimony, and filings.  The overall goal was to walk in between the line of being a consumer advocate and a rate case judge.  Utility interests were present, as well as interests of consumers and small business through the Michigan Attorney General.

The weight of our work had an impact or touched nearly every citizen at some time or another.  Thus, it’s important for every customer – residential or business – to understand the power of the MPSC.   While serving as a commissioner, I understood the importance of engaging the general public and customers to understand their viewpoint and to educate them on the regulatory process and opportunities for having a voice in the process.  While many of the proceedings at the MPSC are formal, there are opportunities for engagement through collaboratives, informal proceedings, and general sharing of information

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