Thursday, February 01, 2007

Maryland Dems Will Let BGE Steal Your Lunch Money

(Cross-posted from Jousting for Justice)

I normally look forward to the little local Democratic Club meetings that happen all over the state. It's a feel-good way of meeting friends, learning to love your legislators, and taking pride in what your party is accomplishing.

Then there are nights like tonight.

I attended a meeting of the Northwest Baltimore County Democratic Club at which Maryland delegates Jon Cardin and Dana Stein spoke.

During Stein's talk, he mentioned the very welcome resignation from the Maryland Public Service Commission. And then, almost in passing, mentioned the 47% proposed rate hike that BGE wants this year.

There was something about the way he said it, that seemed to make the questions come fast and furious, and I do mean furious.

A man in the front row commented that the way Stein talked about the rate increase made it sound as if the legislature wasn't going to do anything about it.

Stein didn't deny it. He basically laid it on O'Malley's doorstep, saying that new members of the Maryland Public Service Commission would help.

Follow up questions were more irate and incredulous, redirecting responsibility to the state legislature. Hadn't they been active to prevent such a hit from devouring consumers last year--during an election year? Weren't the Democrats going to do something about this? If the problem was, as everyone on both sides of the aisle now claims, the deregulation of the energy industry in Maryland, was anyone talking about re-regulating it?

Stein's performance in response to these questions was abysmal. He seemed puzzled that anyone would even have an expectation of him to do anything about it beyond tinkering. He said de-regulation was being talked about, but then rambled on about how smaller changes might help around the margins.

At this point, I was not interested in what was being talked about or what some legislators were doing. I wanted to know what my legislators planned to do about it. I asked, "Can you tell me why you aren't personally going to introduce legislation to roll back de-regulation if everyone is in agreement that it has failed?"

The answer was too pathetic for words. First, he was a freshman legislator--a little too big a bite for him to chew. Second, he wasn't sure the genie could be put back in the bottle.

You know, I'm not sure that re-regulating the energy industry in Maryland is the solution, or that it's the only solution. But that answer practically elicited groans.

I don't want to dump on Dana Stein--a man I voted for, and have a great deal of respect for. But a lot of genies were running about this country when FDR started regulating things. He managed to put them into bottles. And if you're too new a legislator to bother doing anything about what is going to quickly become the #1 issue of Marylanders, then maybe you shouldn't have been elected.

I'm deeply dissatisfied with the Democratic Party in Maryland if Dana Stein's reaction to this problem is a common one in the party.


How is it going to look to voters that Maryland Democrats throw up their hands and look helpless now that they have control of the entire state, after we hung the last rate hike around the GOP's neck like an anchor?

And I'm sorry, but there's a limit to what O'Malley can do here beyond what he has promised. The problem goes deeper than the Maryland Public Services Commission. It wasn't a governor that deregulated energy in Maryland. It was a legislature. This is their mess.

And if any Democrat thinks that the average grandma trying to heat her home this year is going to be less angry with Democrats because she's only paying $50 more on her bill instead of $75 on her bill--they ought to be run out on a rail.

Dana Stein quaintly called the expected backlash "sticker shock." It's going to be a lot more than that. Voters are going to want to make someone pay. And at this moment, I'm not sure it shouldn't be us.


Blogger Andrew Kujan said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/01/2007 02:37:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kujan said...

As I posted on Jousting for Justice, I have a feeling that a good number of people in the assembly have gotten contributions from Constellation's numerous PACS. They must have at least 5-10 PACS set up in different forms with different names, and each one gave money to our Democrats.

O'Malley himself got the maximum from Constellation, $4000.

This isn't to say that our representatives are completely paid for, but it gives an idea of the powerful de-regulation lobby we are up against.

2/01/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a great deal that the legislature can and will be doing. (To Dana's defense, it is early in the session, most of the energy legislation is not even drafted, he's new, and he's on a different committee.) There will be a lot of legislative of activity on aggregation, efficiency, and some significant systemic changes at the PSC. It is true that the genie is out of the bottle in some respects, but it might not be necessary to put it back into a bottle, but rather the legislature could train the genie to work on behalf of consumers, not utilities.

Anyway. The thing that I find extraordinarily interesting is the fact that the recent "47% increase" is essentially unassailable proof that the 72% increase last year was utter nonsense all along. To tell the story requires a lot of technical mumbo jumbo, but ultimately, it becomes clear that the lack of oversight and lack of sophistication at the Ehrlich PSC is absolutely and entirely to blame.

I very much look forward to the O'M appointments.

2/02/2007 02:38:00 PM  
Blogger Bruce from Btown said...

I too was at the Democratic club meeting that the writer was at and saw a totally different perspective. Her description of the club members' reaction to Del. Dana Stein's comments was wrong - no one was irate or incredulous except perhaps herself. Everyone was disappointed with the rate increase, to be sure, but I heard no groans during his talk.

I did hear Del. Stein say that he was told that it may not be possible or legal to re-regulate the energy industry, so why introduce legislation when it could be of dubious legality or practicality? I'm sure if the Governor and other legislators expert in this field find this is a realistic approach and put forth legislation to re-regulate, this will be another tactic to use and most legislators will examine this option very closely.

Del. Stein also noted that the PSC with a new chairman would take a serious look at the rate increase. And to his credit he described how he is promoting development of renewable energy by introducing a bill that would double the state's renewable energy portfolio, thus providing cleaner energy and lessening dependence on increasingly expensive fossil fuels.

Finally, Del. Stein mentioned that he is planning to introduce a bill that would require utilities to offer home energy audits since conservation is the cheapest way to save money on electricity. Both of these bills will probably be opposed by BGE -- proving Dana Stein is hardly a patsy for the utilities.

2/06/2007 12:19:00 AM  

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