I’m very happy to see that the House Labor and Commerce Committee earlier today voted 10-9 to expand the powerful State Corporation Commission (SCC) from 3 to 5 members. An interesting exchange occurred after current SCC Chair Judith Williams Jagdmann (R) disingenuously claimed that she wasn’t there to speak in support or against expansion, but also proceeded to argue that going from 3 to 5 members would somehow make it harder for the commissioners to reach consensus. As Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) pointed out, in questioning of Jagdmann, other states near Virginia have State Corporation Commissions that function fine with more members:
“North Carolina has 7 commissioners, Maryland’s got 5, Pennsylvania’s got 5, South Carolina’s got 7, Delaware’s got 5, Georgia’s got 5…Do you think that these other commissions that have larger memberships work well? [Jagdmann responded, “I don’t think they work any better than we do”] I see. And so, the idea being that with such a huge swath…Let’s just be honest, the SCC in Virginia is the great Oz behind the curtain…I think on this side of the aisle, you’re going to see a lot of interest in maybe expanding some of this responsibility and having more diversity – both regional as well as opinion.”
Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D) also weighed in:
“I don’t think that any member of this committee doubts your experience and your professionalism. But I just want to be honest with you, I also work a full-time job as a public servant, and you’re the first person I’ve seen that we’re trying to offer you resources, and you’re saying no, I don’t need them…I also heard you talking about complaints…you overstate that you have zero complaints and everybody’s extremely satisfied with the job of the SCC…and that doesn’t even talk about the environmentalists…who are unhappy with you…I am sorry, but I don’t think you have zero complaints.”
Ouch. Anyway, in the end, the committee voted along party lines, 10-9 (with three Democrats absent), to move this excellent bill – HB1297 by Del. Dan Helmer -forward. I urge the House of Delegates and the State Senate to pass this bill, as it’s long past time to expand the SCC.
Why? Because: 1) the SCC currently has fewer members than surrounding states; 2) the SCC is controlled by Republicans, including – in addition to Jagdmann – Patricia L. West, “a conservative Regent University official and former key aide to Gov. George Allen and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli”; 3) the SCC is very, very powerful – as Sen. Chap Petersen wrote in 2018, SCC Commissioner is “the most powerful job you’ve never heard of”; and 4) as Sen. Petersen correctly points out, there’s “a consumer-minded void” at the SCC and the need “not to rubber-stamp business plans of powerful corporations but to be the voice of the consumer and ratepayer.” For a wide variety of reasons, including the need to accelerate Virginia’s transition to clean energy, it’s time for much-needed changes at the SCC.