State coalition calls for utility ethics
SPRINGFIELD – A coalition of environmental, business and faith groups is calling for legislation that would make the ethics reform measures recently imposed on utility giant Commonwealth Edison apply to all utilities in Illinois, with enforcement from an independent entity such as the Illinois Commerce Commission.
“Like people all across this state, we are outraged by revelations of a multi-year scheme by ComEd to influence lawmakers through bribery and other illegal activities,” Jack Darin, director of the Illinois Sierra Club, said during a video news conference Wednesday. “Utilities are supposed to serve the people, but for too long it’s been the other way around in Illinois. Utilities and polluters have too often dominated our Illinois energy policies and the rest of us have paid the price.”
In July, ComEd entered a deferred prosecution agreement with federal authorities in which the company admitted to giving jobs, lobbying contracts and other benefits to close associates of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – including some who allegedly did little or no work – in an effort to gain his favor on legislation that benefited the company.
Among the laws ComEd lobbied for that passed was a 2011 measure that provided for automatic, formula-based rate adjustments. That law greatly reduced the role of the ICC in approving rate increases and reduced the number of issues that consumer and industry groups could use to challenge rate changes.
As part of that agreement, ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine and enact a number of internal reforms aimed at ensuring that similar misconduct would not happen in the future.
Those include tracking and reporting anything of value that is requested, solicited or provided to public officials, including hiring requests; establishing a monitoring process for all third-party political lobbying and consulting; prohibiting subcontracting of third-party lobbyists and political consultants; mandating that all third-party lobbying and consulting contracts be approved by a corporate compliance and ethics officer; and requiring ongoing monitoring of all third-party lobbyists and political consultants to ensure they are actually providing work that benefits the business.
ComEd also agreed to develop a “clearly-articulated and visible corporate policy” against violating federal law and to develop policies, procedures and training programs to ensure compliance with those policies.
Members of the Clean Jobs Coalition said they want to see similar requirements written into Illinois state law so that they apply to all public utilities and continue beyond the three-year term of ComEd’s deferred prosecution agreement.
They are proposing that those requirements be inserted into a pending bill known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act – Senate Bill 2132 and House Bill 3624 – a far-reaching energy bill that aims to shift Illinois to 100-percent renewable electricity production by 2050. It would create incentives for the development of solar and wind generation and would provide training opportunities in the renewable energy industry for people displaced from jobs in fossil fuel industries.
In addition, coalition members said they want language added to the bill that repeals legislation from 2011 that provides for automatic, formula-based rate adjustments.
“This is something that we’ve been concerned about for a long time,” said Andrew Barbeau, of the Environmental Defense Fund. “And I think as the facts have come to light, we think it’s appropriate for regulated utilities to be subject to these transparency and strong ethics guidelines.”
Coalition members said they are urging lawmakers to take up the Clean Energy Jobs Act when they return to Springfield for the fall veto session in November.