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Ousted PUC Commissioner Blames Vengeful Utilities

Ousted PUC Commissioner Blames Vengeful Utilities

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will go from being "a watchdog to a lapdog," Commissioner John Hanger commented following the announcement last week that the governor had chosen Chester, PA, Mayor Aaron Wilson Jr. to replace Hanger.

"Gov. Ridge fired me because I am independent and because I have led the charge to replace electric, telephone and gas monopolies with genuine competition," Hanger said. He blamed Peco Energy and Bell Atlantic Corp. for leading the fight against his renomination when his five-year PUC term expired April 1.

"Tom Ridge placed the politics of pleasing powerful interests before the interests of ordinary Pennsylvanians who have no Harrisburg lobbyists and who cannot give Tom Ridge tens of thousands of dollars to buy their way into Tom Ridge's governor's club of high rollers," Hanger said in a statement. The outgoing commissioner had led the fight for a real electric restructuring law in the state and to overturn and restructure Peco Energy's settlement under that law (Please see NGI May 18, p.1). After making the announcement and before leaving the country on a 10-day overseas trade mission, Ridge denied the utility companies had influenced his choice.

"The PUC has been divided 3 to 2 between commissioners who are committed to genuine competition and commissioners who have voted in the key electric and telephone cases in a way that would delay, weaken or destroy both electric or telephone competition." The chairman and vice chairman are in the pro-monopoly camp, Hanger said. The decision to reject Peco Energy's initial restructuring offer was 3-2.

Wilson, 62, is a retired educator with no public utility experience. He was elected mayor of Chester two years ago. Contacted by NGI when his name first surfaced as a possible candidate several weeks ago, Wilson said no one had notified or talked to him in advance about a possible appointment. He said his only utility experience was dealing with utilities for the City of Chester. "That's mainly Peco Energy. They have served the city well. They have a lot of property here." Wilson was called in to see the governor on May 20 and his nomination was announced two days later.

Hanger said he is challenging the governor's action "in the hope that enough attention will be paid to the Public Utility Commission so that genuine electric competition will not be rolled back, and that finally the PUC will do what is necessary to break Bell Atlantic's nearly complete monopoly and enforce the laws requiring telephone competition."

Hanger said he had tentatively decided to continue to serve during the allowed grace period until his successor is confirmed by the state legislature.

Ellen Beswick

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