The chairman of the Louisiana Public Service Commission on Tuesday acknowledged that he cut off testimony prior to a vote that rolled back a program that included incentives for consumers to improve their homes and buy energy-efficient appliances.
Three nonprofit groups have sued the state regulators, claiming that PSC Chairman Eric Skrmetta, of Metairie, had improperly refused in February to permit supporters to speak at a public meeting. Shortly after Skrmetta shut down testimony during that meeting, the PSC voted 3-2 to abolish the energy efficiency program that was approved on a 4-1 vote in December.
Skrmetta on Tuesday asked the five elected regulators to revisit the issue and take another vote on the “energy efficiency” program at the PSC’s next meeting on June 26. He said opponents and supporters of the program would be given an opportunity to address the PSC. The five elected regulators agreed.
Reading from a prepared statement, Skrmetta said: “It has never been my intent, nor will it ever be my intent, to deny anyone the opportunity to speak their mind before this commission. It is my intent to make sure that all testimony is conducted according to the rules of the commission.”
He said he was following the agency’s rules. The rules require requests for oral argument to be submitted in writing and filed with the secretary and each commissioner five days before any final recommendation by the staff, he said.
“I didn’t make the rules, but I must enforce those rules,” Skrmetta said.
“As watchdog organizations, it was our duty to stand up for the legal rights of Louisiana citizens. These proceedings need to be transparent and allow public comment, “ said Casey DeMoss Roberts, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy. “Today, the Commission sent a clear signal that the public should be a part of the process.”
The Alliance for Affordable Energy, the Sierra Club of Louisiana and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network in April filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court, alleging that the commission improperly refused in February to permit program supporters to speak against its abolition. The move violated the state’s Open Meetings Law, according to the lawsuit petition.
The energy efficiency program was the product of an alliance between consumer groups, environmentalists, privately owned utility corporations and the major manufacturers to provide discounts for many home improvements.
Forty-six states already have adopted similar programs that provide incentives for consumers to install energy efficiency measures.