PSC Rejects FOIA requests for records of Willie Phillips’ participation in industry-funded events

The Washington DC Public Service Commission has rejected a Freedom of Information Act request concerning Chairman Willie Phillips’ participation in invitation-only events funded in half by utilities, together with a utility regulated by the Commission.

Energy commerce shops E&E News and UtilityDive have reported that the Biden administration is contemplating Phillips as a doable appointee to switch Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. 

The Energy and Policy Institute first requested Phillips’ communications concerning his membership on the Keystone Policy Center’s Energy Board in December 2020. The PSC rejected that request, and has delayed one other request from EPI for Phillips’ calendar and communications with regulated utilities. 

The Keystone Policy Center brings collectively vitality consultants for personal, invitation-only meetings thrice a 12 months by way of its “Keystone Energy Board,” which it describes as a “longstanding discussion board for vitality sector leaders to study and talk about well timed points,” in line with the web site.

Philllips is one of 46 board members, in line with the Board’s website, which says the members “carry experience from trade, know-how, environmental and shopper advocacy, and state and federal authorities.”

Many of the board members work for utilities, together with Melissa Lavinson, Exelon’s senior vice chairman for authorities and exterior relations. Exelon is the father or mother firm of Pepco, one of the utilities regulated by Phillips. (Phillips voted in favor of the Exelon-Pepco merger in 2016.) Exelon can also be an annual donor to the group, having contributed between $10,000 – $24,999 in 2019, in line with Keystone’s annual report

Representatives from Duke Energy, Dominion Energy, PG&E Corporation, NRG Energy, Xcel Energy, and the Edison Electric Institute are additionally on the board, as is the President and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Past board members have included representatives from Consumers Energy and ITC Holdings. 

In 2019, the Keystone Policy Center gave a Leadership Award to Tom Kuhn, the president of the Edison Electric Institute, which is the commerce affiliation for investor-owned electrical utilities.

In addition to trade representatives and authorities officers like Phillips, representatives of some tutorial establishments, environmental and shopper advocates, just like the Natural Resources Defense Council and the World Resources Institute, have additionally been members of the group’s board. 

Exelon’s ComEd, Florida Power and Light, National Grid, Southern Company, and the American Gas Association have additionally been main donors to the Keystone Policy Center in recent years

The Keystone Policy Center’s web site lists a number of coverage papers, together with a current one that features federal recommendations for economy-wide decarbonization. The group additionally has further policy areas, together with well being coverage and agriculture, and different firms from these sectors are vital financial supporters of the group, together with Altria, Bayer, Monsanto, and Phillip Morris.

The Keystone Policy Center discloses solely funding ranges, not exact totals, and doesn’t disclose what funding, if any, is earmarked for its Energy Board.

FOIA rejected by the PSC and the Office of the Mayor

EPI requested Chairman Phillips’ communications concerning the Keystone Energy Board from January 1, 2019, by December 4, 2020. The PSC denied the request 4 months later. In its denial, the PSC claimed that the records weren’t public and weren’t topic to the DC FOIA as a result of Chairman Phillips serves on the board in his private capability.

EPI appealed the PSC’s denial in April to the Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel, writing that Phillips’ invitation to the Keystone Energy’s Board and to take part in its personal events pertains to his position as a utility regulator for the District. 

The Mayor’s Office rejected EPI’s attraction on July 21. The workplace confirmed that the PSC did carry out a search and situated a quantity of emails, however dominated towards disclosing the paperwork primarily based on the PSC’s illustration that the emails aren’t about company enterprise: 

The sum of their nexus to the company is that they had been despatched to or from Chairman Phillips’ PSC electronic mail handle. In different phrases, they occur to be on the company’s electronic mail server. That alone doesn’t make them public records topic to FOIA…”

The PSC, nevertheless, is listed on the District of Columbia’s Report on Donations because the recipient of “in-kind” contributions from the Keystone Policy Center for Phillips’ journey and lodging bills for the events. The PSC obtained a complete of $3,650 in in-kind donations between 2017 and 2019 for the events. (2017, 2018, 2019)

An annual DC PSC report to Mayor Bowser additionally lists the Keystone Policy Center as one of a number of “governmental and trade companions,” which can be “invaluable to fixing issues and producing profitable outcomes for D.C. ratepayers.”

In response to an EPI request for remark, the DC PSC mentioned, “Commissioners could also be concerned in instructional/coaching alternatives that edify their understanding of sure issues (for instance, conferences and academic/coaching events sponsored by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC)), and communications with or handouts from such instructional/coaching events don’t essentially create public company records.”

Public utility commissions in Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi and different states have all complied with public records requests to EPI by disclosing paperwork associated to Commissioners’ membership in NARUC and different entities that say they’re concerned in Commissioner training.

EPI has since filed further file requests with the PSC to view Phillips’ calendar, and communication with Exelon/Pepco and Washington Gas. The PSC has prolonged the timeline to supply responsive paperwork for this request. 

More personal, invite-only events Phillips has attended

Phillips listed different events in which the DC PSC obtained “in-kind” donations for his journey and lodging, together with the personal conferences hosted by the Harvard Electricity Policy Group (HEPG) and the Emerging Issues Policy Forum (EIPF).

HEPG is a utility-funded group working beneath the banner of Harvard University that has given tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} in free flights, costly lodge rooms and swanky dinners to state officers who’re supposed to control utilities that additionally fund the group. The DC PSC obtained an in-kind contribution of $1,650 for Phillips to attend the HEPG occasion in October 2017, according to the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services.

EPI obtained emails by a public file request that confirmed that then-Arizona Corporation Commissioner Boyd Dunn was nominated by an Arizona Public Service lobbyist to “fill the emptiness left by [previous Arizona Corporation Commission] Commissioner Stump.” 

EIPF was one other utility-funded group that privately introduced collectively regulators and utility representatives on the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, Florida. Julia Johnson, a board member of FirstEnergy and former commissioner on the Florida PSC, began and arranged the EIPF events. The DC PSC obtained an in-kind contribution of $1,650 for Phillips to attend the EIPF occasion in October 2017, according to the Office of Partnerships and Grant Services.

An agenda and participant biography document for that occasion obtained by EPI by a public file request that 12 months confirmed that the attendees included 52 utility and trade representatives, 43 regulators and lawmakers, and 7 shopper advocates. Phillips was not listed on the agenda or biography doc.

Featured picture: Overview of the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, YouTube.

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