Proposed H.B. 2367: Full-Frontal Assault On Public Protections, Open Meetings, Open Records, Transparency & Ratepayers’ Right To Know The Truth

Before the Oklahoma Legislature considers adopting the unbelievably broad exceptions to the Open Meeting Act for Corporation Commissioners provided for in House Bill 2367 – the so-called Corporation Commission Efficiency Act– it needs to consider whether the public should continue to have its current “right to know” how the state’s most economically powerful state agency conducts business and regulates (or doesn’t) the monopoly public utility companies under its constitutional jurisdiction.

In contrast, it should consider whether current allegations of regulatory capture, obstruction, whitewash, coverup, deceit, wrongdoing, violations of the Open Meeting Act, falsification of agency records, failure to meet statutory audit and other requirements (particularly concerning the multi-billion-dollar fleecing of ratepayers surrounding 2021’s Winter Storm “Uri”) and possible public corruption deserve to be endorsed by lawmakers, giving future Commission conspirators a “get out of jail free” card to use the next time regulated companies and their cronies decide to “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Personally, I believe the activities, meetings and records of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and its individual commissioners deserve more, not less, scrutiny – by the public, the news media, the State Auditor, the legislature, and anyone else interested to learn the truth about why Oklahoma ratepayers will be paying some $5 billion over the next 2.5 decades for two-weeks-worth of energy usage in February 2021 that should have cost a tiny fraction of that.

Those monumentally expensive OCC orders (approved 2-1 over my vociferous objections) were only a handful of the 10,000 to 15,000 orders that the Commission issues annually. Having now been at the agency for more than 35 years, I can report that for my first decade or more in office, the OCC commissioners met daily, Monday through Friday, in posted, open, regular public meetings with recorded votes. Even ten and twenty years ago, the OCC still averaged more than three posted, open, regular public meetings weekly at which it approved over 80% of the orders issued.

But in 2023, the OCC averaged less than one public meeting per week at which commissioners conducted business and voted on orders. Consequently, less than 20% of the OCC orders issued in 2023 received an open vote in a posted, open, regular (or even “special”) OCC public meeting, let alone anything resembling the regular public commissioner discussions and publicly-filed commissioner deliberations that used to lend the public insight into the forces influencing why the commissioners voted the way they did.

In short, the vast majority of OCC business is now conducted behind closed doors; most of the commissioners’ nod to “openness and transparency” now occur when they occasionally appear in public to cast in-bulk order-approval votes. The consequences of this behavior for the public and their monthly utility bills should be clear. Otherwise, I agree with the authors of H.B. 2367: showing up less than once a week to cast in-bulk order-approval votes is certainly “efficient.”

A current Notice of Inquiry (NOI) being conducted at the Corporation Commission seeks “to identify and examine alternative ratemaking methodologies for public utilities” – “alternatives” to the OCC’s current “methodologies” presumably. For all the attention being paid to the alternatives, this NOI has yet to adequately examine the current state of monopoly public utility regulation at the OCC.

To assist it, on November 29, 2023, I filed a written opinion in the NOI declaring publicly, “Utility Regulation at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is Broken.” https://public.occ.ok.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=14213148

H.B. 2367 is an attempt to slam the lid down and nail shut the coffin that the Corporation Commission has attempted to build for the very costly cover-up that the special interests orchestrated to conceal their multi-billion-dollar 2021 Winter Storm profiteering and bail-outs at the expense of Oklahoma ratepayers. It is yet another lash across the eyes of those legitimately attempting to peek behind the curtain and find out exactly how and why consumers have received such short shrift at the Commission in recent years while the insiders and special interests seem to get their way time and time again.

I recognize this strategy to bury the truth because they have been using it on me for the better part of two years – hindering, delaying, and outright obstructing my constitutionally authorized requests for records and information from my own agency, other agencies, and industry. Among these withheld records, I intend to find the specifics of “who got paid how much for what,” details about millions in cost discrepancies and apparently rigged state hiring surrounding the 2021 Winter Storm bond deals, the truth about the origins of the securitization legislation, and the improper role state officials and others may have played in orchestrating the ratepayer-borne bail-out of companies these officials were supposed to be regulating.

I invite readers to see my most recent NOI filing here: https://public.occ.ok.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=15288990.

For further details about the ongoing obstruction that is nothing less than a full-frontal assault on ratepayers’ constitutional protections from abuse by monopoly public utilities – an assault being launched by the very agency to which the framers of the Oklahoma Constitution gave the duty to protect ratepayers.

Editor’s Note and guidance on content submissions: Readers may view Commissioner Anthony’s full filing with attachments here: https://public.occ.ok.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=15288990

CapitolBeatOK.com is an independent, non-partisan and locally-managed news service. It was founded in 2009 by Patrick B. McGuigan and operates in the public interest. Send letters to the editor addressed to PatMcGuigan, email: ckane6@aol.com. Submissions with other views about these issues are welcome, but CapitolBeatOK.com reserves the right to make content decisions about news, information and opinion without regard to political considerations or pressure. This standard is applied to other matters of public interest and information or other matters covered by this news organization.