Why Public Utilities/Service Commissions Are Important to the NAACP

February 25, 2015 / By Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program

With the release of the NAACP national and state reports, Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution, Creating Jobs and the Saturday ratification of the “Advancing Equitable Access to Clean Energy Alternatives Resolution” by the NAACP National Board of Directors, the NAACP state and local leadership have an opportunity to influence not only legislation but regulation of our energy landscape. To that end, today we are releasing this guidance document on working with Public Utilities/Public Service Commissions including an overview of who they are, what they are and what kind of decisions they make, and how NAACP can influence decision making through our civic engagement agenda and through education of the Commissions of the equity implications of our energy choices/management.

Public Utilities Commissions/Public Service Commissions (PUCs/PSCs) hold power over key decisions related to the energy resources that power our homes and businesses (and often pollute our air and water). These decisions include how much we pay in electricity bills, what our energy sources are, and whether new energy production facilities are approved.  For example, a proposal to build or update a power plant, to invest in solar or energy efficiency, or to change customer rates generally comes before the PUCs/PSCs.

PUCs/PSCs are usually anywhere from 3 to 10 commissioners who are either elected or appointed. Many are retired or former utility company employees. Demographics wise, the majority of the commissioners are White American, male, and mid to high wealth individuals. In MS, which is 48% African American, there has never been an A.A. Commissioner in the 80+ year history of the PUC. In Georgia, there has only been one A.A. commissioner in the 107 year history. This is significant, given the disproportionate location of energy production facilities in low income, communities of color, and the utility rates that they regulate have a disparate impact on women, communities of color and low income communities.

As it stands, the combination of the demographic profile of commissioners ,  the ongoing rampant voter disenfranchisement, along with gerrymandering by facility owners with relationships to PUCs/PSCs, means that the people who are most impacted by polluting industries and practices have the least influence over who is making decisions and what decisions are made regarding these polluting industries and practices.

Therefore, the role of the NAACP leadership in engaging with and influencing the PUCs/PSCs in each state is a critical aspect of upholding civil and human rights as it relates to advocating for justice in regulating our nation’s energy infrastructure.

Download the Engaging With Public Utility/Service Commissions Guidance Document here.


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