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This morning's Times-Picayune reports that three of the five members of Louisiana's Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates (kind of) the state's utilities, are agnostics or worse on the subject of climate change.

"I don't buy into what is a majority position now. I think there is evidence that man-made climate change may not exist, " said Jimmy Field, a commissioner who represents Baton Rouge and Lafayette. "I've heard presentations both ways, that it is man-made, and I've heard that other speakers say that there really isn't a lot of evidence for it."

Ah, of course.  He's heard other speakers.

After all, such respected climatologists as novelist Michael Crichton and AEI fellow Robert Hahn have reminded us that objective, unbiased scientists "can disagree" on the phenomenon of global warming and its causes.  The fact that actual climate scientists really don't disagree much on the subject doesn't mean they can't, now does it?  The fact that the U.S. military is already preparing contingency plans for massive population migrations and conflicts over shrinking resources due to climate change doesn't mean we can't disagree, right?

Okay, removing tongue from cheek, what could possibly make these otherwise intelligent, issue-centric public regulators mouth the Limbaugh myth that human-induced climate change is still some unproven hypothesis on the order of "it's turtles all the way down?"

Campaign contributions?  Eh, could be.  The Secretary of State's searchable database of campaign finance reports does show contributions from employees of and PACs related to regulated companies to candidates for the LPSC.

But utilities always try to influence who is elected or selected to regulate them.  It's just good business.

Could the real problem be neither political science nor climate science but merely the science of fine dining?  Though the Commission set new ethical guidelines for members and staff this January, commissioners and their underlings have long enjoyed life on the corporate cards of  regulated companies.  

James Gill wrote a scathing column in December detailing the tens of thousands utilities have spent filling the maws of regulators and their staff members.

Ethics remains an alien concept at the PSC. Entergy treated St. Blanc's assistant Joan Holley 95 times at a cost of $3,220, which includes some meals where her husband was present. Entergy must be a firm believer in family values, when it is prepared to feed its regulators' spouses even though we have Twomey's word for it that none "of these expenses have ever influenced any decisions at the PSC." So, shareholders might wonder, what is the point of it all?

Holley says that she frequently dines with her old pal at Entergy, Millie Adams, just to "laugh and talk about fun things." Business is never discussed. But it doesn't have to be. Cozy relations with the regulator are all a utility company needs.

St. Blanc says that Adams picks up the tab out of habit as a friend, although she might deserve more credit for her generosity if she were using her own money. If Entergy hadn't paid Holley's bills, the PSC would have, St. Blanc says. Why you and I should have paid for Holley to "laugh and talk about fun things" with a friend 95 times was not explained.

Sounds fun to me.  And I am assured that Entergy doesn't pass on such costs to ratepayers.  Nor, we are told, do we consumers pay for campaign contributions, which are still allowed under the new guidelines.

While Gill's emphasis in the column was on the PSC's role as rate cop, the agency now stands as a formidable industry-friendly roadblock to state and federal legislation to combat global warming, and today's Times-Pic story of a majority of climate deniers on the Commission gives an indication of how seriously they plan to take that role.

Sorry to post such a disjointed diatribe.  My mind is still reeling from reading the story.

Originally posted to Crashing Vor on Sat Apr 18, 2009 at 09:33 AM PDT.

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