These days, it’s competitive as to which Montana state agency with Republican leadership is the most troubled: the Secretary of State’s office led by Corey Stapleton, the Office of Public Instruction under Elsie Arntzen or the Montana State Auditor’s office headed by Matt Rosendale.
But for pure dysfunction, the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) takes the cake and eats it too.
Some of the most important regulatory decisions the commission has faced in over a decade are being considered while the five Republican commissioners are sniping, hacking and backbiting each other. This should be of great concern to Montana energy consumers. Let’s review the malfeasance.
The most recent episode involves the leaked email messages of Commissioner Roger Koopman. They appeared in the far-right Montana website Northwest Liberty News. The culprit in the leak appears to be a follow commissioner, Randy Pinocci. Public records requests by Billings Gazette reporter Tom Lutey revealed that Pinocci wanted access to Koopman’s email on numerous occasions.
And Pinocci is known for his connections to fringe organizations like the conspiracy-laden Red Pill Expos, so it’s not too much of a reach to believe Pinocci is behind the leaks to the reactionary Northwest Liberty News.
It also looks like commission chair, Brad Johnson, approves of Pinocci hacking Koopman, although Johnson denies this.
Pinocci’s paperwork also bears the signature of Brad Johnson … Johnson told The Gazette he never signed off on the records request, that someone had used his signature stamp without his knowledge, though he wouldn’t speculate who.
The chairman’s story is contradicted by a memorandum from a PSC legal counsel, acquired through a public records request filed by The Gazette.
The Department of Administration had identified Johnson as the one who asked for Koopman’s emails.
Much of this acrimony centers around Koopman’s criticism of the PSC’s other commissioners. He rebuked Chairman Johnson for failing to inform constituents and the press about the PSC’s decision to give NorthWestern Energy a $6.5 million electric rate increase. From a Koopman guest column in Lee Newspapers:
The most recent example of our habitually dysfunctional, politically dominated Public Service Commission was our failure to publicly disclose one of our most important votes of the year – the approval of a NWE electric rate increase that affected every NorthWestern customer.
Now it may seem like Koopman is the lone rebel on the commission, deeply concerned with the interests of ratepayers, but it should be noted that Koopman voted with the other four commissioners for the NWE electric rate increase. He’s also a climate change denier and highly critical of the young people who are challenging the fossil fuel industry.
Koopman also voted just last week and with the rest of the commission to keep NWE’s report on a 77-day Colstrip power plant shutdown a secret. And since the report is already public, thanks to Washington state’s utility commission, this action is all the more egregious.
Koopman and the other four commissioners also voted to keep additional information from consumers. From Yellowstone Public Radio:
State utility regulators have agreed with NorthWestern Energy’s request to block details on its new coal supply contract from becoming public — at least for the moment. This comes as Montana’s biggest utility moves to buy a larger share of the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip.
How Montana’s monopoly utility company is going to produce and distribute power to consumers over the coming years, and how it confronts climate change, has to be one of the most significant issues to come before the PSC this millennium.
It’s too bad only three of the seats on the commission are up in the 2020 election, but it’s a start. Please do your homework and vote accordingly.