COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio Governor Michael DeWine wrote a letter to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Nominating Commission Wednesday telling them to offer new candidates for the vacancy left by the resignation of former PUCO Chairman Samuel Randazzo. DeWine rejected the slate of four finalists screened by the 12-member Nominating Council.
“The list contained candidates who could be an appropriate addition to the PUCO,” wrote DeWine. “I reject the first list and request you reconvene the PUCO Nominating Council to provide me with a second list. The second list may include candidates that have previously applied, along with new applicants.”
The four applicants submitted to the governor on December 21 were:
- Angela Amos – policy advisor at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission;
- Anne Vogel – governor DeWine’s energy policy Director and former Director of Federal Government Affairs at American Electric Power (AEP);
- Greg Poulos – Director of Consumer Advocates of the PJM States, Inc.;
- Judith French – jurist and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice.
French was just appointed by DeWine to head the Ohio Department of Insurance. Vogel recently fell under scrutiny and criticism from the Energy and Policy institute for alleged ties to AEP dark money.
PUCO is responsible for regulating rates and services of public utility companies. The commission is made up of five governor-appointed commissioners (upon the advice and approval of the Ohio Senate), one of which the governor has discretion to choose as chairperson.
Randazzo was appointed to serve on the PUCO by the governor in February 2019. At that time, DeWine also announced his intent to make him Chairman. The appointment to PUCO was approved by the Senate, the move to select Randazzo as chairman was at the governor’s pleasure.
Randazzo’s position as the state’s top utility regulator was hotly contested and criticized from jump street.
Prior to his appointment, Randazzo worked as an energy lawyer who represented companies called before the PUCO and worked as a registered lobbyist representing legacy energy companies. Further, Randazzo was also a member of the PUCO Nomination Committee, resigning just days before he was presented to DeWine by that same committee, according to an AP report.
“It’s not uncommon for someone with industry experience to get an appointment – and with something like energy, it’s important to have someone with experience,” said Ohio State Senator Andrew Brenner (R-District 12). “Randazzo actually made his rounds and talked with Senators but I was not aware of his after-the-fact ties to energy companies. Frankly, I was shocked. There will definitely be much more scrutiny this time around with the governor’s appointment,” said Brenner.
In late November Randazzo resigned after FBI agents raided his Columbus townhouse. Randazzo was believed to be part of the organization named in an SEC filing that received more than $4 million from FirstEnergy. It was also reported that Randazzo owned a company named as a creditor in a FirstEnergy subsidiary’s bankruptcy filings.
FirstEnergy is not only subject to PUCO regulations, it is at the heart of a $61 million federal investigation that resulted in four arrests for bribery – two of the accused have already pled guilty. The federal charges allege the company funneled money to a group of legislators who, in turn, passed a law approving a $1.1 billion bailout for FirstEnergy to keep its nuclear plants operational.
The Nominating Council was created in 1983 to check the governor’s appointments – a time when energy prices spiked and utility corruption was suspected.
The Ohio Consumers’ Council (OCC) is a nine-member board designed to assist Ohioans who have trouble paying their energy bills, as well as consumers, unions and family farmers who need representation before the PUCO, federal regulatory agencies, appellate courts and the Ohio General Assembly.
OCC Director Bruce Weston wrote a public letter to DeWine a few weeks ago urging his appointment of candidate Greg Poulos to the PUCO. The letter also included a resolution passed by OCC calling for PUCO commissioners to be chosen by a direct election instead of governor selection.
Following DeWine’s request for more candidates yesterday, Weston said:
“it is a disappointment that once again a consumer advocate [Poulos] has been rejected for appointment to the PUCO. Currently, two of the PUCO commissioners formerly worked for utilities, and until recently there were three who worked for utilities. The legislature should reform the process for selection of PUCO commissioners, in the interest of fairness, balance and justice for Ohio consumers.”
“The intent is good, to have an election,” said Brenner, who is a member of the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee, “but how many people even know who is on their local school board?” Brenner believes that different advocacy groups would pick a candidate and finance the campaign and that it wouldn’t have the impact intended.
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