What is it with Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin Public Service Commission?
Evers has, for the most part, made solid appointments to run state agencies, but he has messed up now in all three of his appointments to the PSC.
He started out in his first weeks in office with the worst appointment of his tenure so far. Evers appointed Rebecca Valcq, a career-long utility lawyer to chair the commission. Valcq had worked either directly or as a contract attorney for WE Energies, Wisconsin’s largest utility. Moreover, in her early 40’s and with a six-year term, she will need to find another job when she’s done. Where do you think she’ll go? Right. The revolving door just keeps spinning.
Valcq wasted little time in justifying my concerns. She refused to recuse herself from a decision granting permission to ATC to build a massive power line from Iowa to Middleton. ATC’s majority owner is her former employer, WE Energies. Not only did Valcq vote in favor of her old boss’ interests in the power line, but she has steadfastly refused to even consider ordering ATC to halt its work on the line after a federal judge ruled that ATC could not cross the Mississippi at its preferred spot, which runs through a federal wildlife refuge. As a result, ATC is bulldozing through with the line on either side of the river, hoping to force the courts into ultimately approving the damaging river crossing or forcing them to abandon hundreds of millions of dollars of line that is already built.
Valcq’s appointment made no sense, but Evers followed it up with one that was not much better. He appointed Tyler Huebner, the executive director of RENEW. Now, RENEW does the Lord’s work, advocating for alternatives to fossil fuels. The trouble is that the Lord is apparently in favor of that very same ATC power line. Huebner had lobbied for it, which meant that he had to recuse himself (as Valcq should have) from that decision, among others. Why appoint someone who you know from the get-go will have to sit out major decisions? And wind and solar are no longer scrappy, mom and pop endeavors. They’ve become major projects funded by the big public utilities.
Evers got one more chance when Gov. Scott Walker’s last appointee, Ellen Nowak, resigned effective today. But Evers struck out. He appointed Summer Strand. Strand had been Walker’s choice to run a division in the Department of Administration, so we could start out by asking if there were any Democrats who might have been qualified, but let’s let that go.
More to the point, Strand has been working for an outfit called the Walbec Group. No, I’ve never heard of them either, but it turns out that this is a big national engineering firm with several subsidiaries. A review of their website shows that they are involved in all manner of big public infrastructure projects, including specifically water and sewer infrastructure for public utilities. That’s something that the PSC regulates and, of course, since Walbec is involved in big infrastructure projects they may well end up getting a piece of power utility plants and transmission facilities as well.
So, Strand’s potential conflicts of interest, while a little murkier then the others, are also very real. And, like Valcq and Huebner, she is in the middle of her career and will need to return to the private sector at some point. That can’t be far away from her thoughts as she makes decisions as a commissioner.
As I’ve suggested many times in the past, governors should appoint retired judges to the PSC. Judges are used to hearing the evidence and measuring it against the law and, in this case, policy. The PSC is a quasi-judicial agency but now Evers is emphasizing the “quasi” while I think he should focus on the “judicial.”
Instead of this choice why not appoint someone like former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler? Or, though he’s not retired, how about Dane County Circuit Judge Everett Mitchell, who just lost in the primary for Supreme Court? Or, if you don’t want another lawyer, how about Evers’ former Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes? He’s a smart guy with no apparent ties to utilities. In fact, painstaking research turns up the fact that he was raised by a public school teacher and a third shift worker.
Evers certainly has his eye on diversity when making appointments and all three of the men I suggest here are Black. To my knowledge, there has never been a Black PSC commissioner. There’s no lack of women and people of color who could do these jobs but who don’t come with the obvious conflicts of Evers’ three appointees.
For Tony Evers it may be Summer, but it’s a cold day for Wisconsin ratepayers.
9 thoughts on “Evers Messes Up Another PSC Appointment”
It’s such a deeply technical, byzantine area where inside knowledge and experience is critical. I don’t think you can appoint someone who is qualified to help make those decisions who hasn’t been working in the industry in some form or another. Throwing a know-nothing into the mix would really be bad. Plus, the regulatory agencies are afraid that they won’t have the power when and where they need to ever say no.
Most PSC commissioners over the years have not had a background in the industry. It’s not rocket science. Any intelligent person can grasp the issues. It calls for judgement. And anyone with the specialized knowledge comes with a built-in bias, usually toward the utilities.
Despite the day to day anxiety of most citizens about who gets appointed to the PSC, I would say you are off track on this one. Summer is an extremely capable, smart and effective public servant. She is an attorney who has worked for Wisconsin State Government for roughly 10 years, half in the Senate as chief of staff, counsel to energy committee chair and she worked for DOA another 5 years. Her previous company indeed works with various levels of government. To me, knowing how an actual private sector employer functions is a GOOD thing to have in a public servant. As a PSC Commissioner, she “holds office” like many other appointees, required and expected to follow state law and provide accountability to the agency itself. On that note, she is more than prepared to serve in this capacity. Your comments are ill informed, cheap shot
As I’ve noted before, what’s needed in PSC commissioners is the skills of a judge. They’re essentially weighing evidence. Industry background is not only unnecessary, but actually detrimental because it inevitably comes with conflicts.
What exactly is the profile of someone you would like to see appointed? “The skills of a judge…” Don’t Judges emerge from being a lawyer? or they have spent time in the Legislature before they get to the bench? And keep in mind, these appointments need to be confirmed by Republican majority.
Well, judges have the skills of a judge. I suggested someone like former Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. As for needing to be confirmed, Evers has many appointments who will never be confirmed and they continue to serve.
I agree. My main point here was that if you are going to give away money, then the guaranteed income is a better bet then student loan forgiveness.
“In fact, painstaking research turns up the fact that he was raised by a public school teacher and a third shift worker.” I assume sarcasm as we were subjected millions of dollars worth of campaign ads repeating that information in the last election cycle.
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