January 30, 2007

PSC appointment chips Spitzer's paint

I was starting to wonder if I was the only one surprised by Governor Spitzer's appointment of NYSEG/Energy East lobbyist Angela Sparks-Beddoe to lead the Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency NYSEG fought pitched battles against. (See here and here.) I haven't seen any other blogs pick up the issue, and papers were pretty quiet after the first round of stories. (Maybe it just doesn't seem reasonable to side with Senate Republicans rather than Governor Spitzer this month?)

Yesterday's Rochester paper seemed to trust Spitzer's judgment, apparently mostly because it's Spitzer. Today, however, their fellow Gannett paper, the Ithaca Journal, took a harder stance on Sparks-Beddoe:

Tapping someone who is in tune with what is going on in the utilities market is not a bad thing. But Energy East happens to own New York State Electric & Gas, which has been the bad-boy poster child for demonstrating how a utility can antagonize both its Public Service Commission regulators and its customers. In the last few years, NYSEG threatened that its transmission and distribution system would be put at risk if the PSC did not approve a NYSEG plan. Then, it threatened large layoffs of its workforce. Earlier this month, The Ithaca Journal reported on claims by a former NYSEG executive who described a strategy by the utility that if true will land it in the corporate hall of shame....

Spitzer would have been wise to wait on appointing Sparks-Beddoe until after the PSC conducts an investigation into Corbett's statements. Corbett also has a lawsuit pending that could tarnish Energy East and NYSEG further, or absolve them in some fashion. All is not lost with this appointment. Spitzer should immediately withdraw Sparks-Beddoe and move in a different direction or wait to see what the PSC does with Corbett's allegations. Further, we wonder how he can be comfortable tapping the head of a company that "waged a public war" with the PSC.

Those paint chips on the Spitzer Humvee are small right now. Pull Sparks-Beddoe's name and the governor's reform machine will only need a small touch up. If Spitzer leaves things where they are, we could be heading straight to the body shop for some major reconstruction.

Okay, the Humvee analogy is pretty strained, but it's really hard to see at this point how this appointment can possibly demonstrate good judgment. Maybe we'll get to hear of Sparks-Beddoe's mighty efforts to contain NYSEG's bad ideas from within, or of her plans to build up the PSC so that a "bad-boy poster child" has no advantage. So far, though, the story looks pretty unpromising.

Update: The Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin editorial shares similar concerns. (Hmmm... kentwater at the Binghamton paper and Greater_Ithaca on the Journal site posted identical comments on the two editorials. Odd.) There's also a letter in the Binghamton paper.

Posted by simon at January 30, 2007 8:15 AM in , ,
Note on photos