GOP tries to block O’Malley regulators

By Daniel Menefee

Sen. E.J. Pipkin made an unsuccessful plea on the Senate floor Friday to reject two Public Service Commission nominees who lobbied for Gov. Martin O’Malley’s offshore wind proposals last year.

Thames Estuary wind turbine

An offshore wind turbine in the Thames Estuary. Photo by phault.

“I don’t believe these two nominees can be objective enough to protect ratepayers,” Pipkin told the Senate. “They were the governor’s two chief leaders in [offshore wind] proposals before us last year.”

Pipkin said the PSC is supposed to act independently and that nominees Kelly Speakes-Backman and Kevin Hughes have previously worked as “advocates for alternative energies that are for more expensive for the ratepayer than traditional energy sources,” Pipkin said in a statement. Those who lobbied from “outside the PSC cannot be independent while serving on it.”

“These are important decisions that actually have ramifications for our ratepayers that cost billions of dollars,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin said the PSC last year estimated the surcharge on electric bills for offshore wind energy development as high as $9 a month – but later lowered the estimate, under pressure from the administration, to $2 a month to coincide with the governor’s statements of a $2 cap.

The PSC suddenly reversed course in its estimates of the monthly surcharge down to $2 as a result of a “significant amount of pressure” from the administration, Pipkin said.

Pipkin said a string of e-mails between Speakes-Backman and the PSC last year showed the administration was “actively coercing an independent agency to amend its forecasts to bolster the governor’s agenda.”

Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery, rose in defense of the nominees and said the PSC acted appropriately at the request of the House Economic Matters Committee.

“What the emails show here is that the PSC weighed in on a matter of great importance to the General Assembly,” Frosh said. “A point of fact, they were asked to work with the… executive branch and the legislative branch to figure out what was going on in a matter of very important policy.”

Frosh said the PSC was an independent agency but there was a provision in the law that made it appropriate for the agency to work with the administration on legislative matters.

“That’s what was going on here,” Frosh said about the emails.

The nominees were confirmed with seven Republicans voting against them.

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. JGwen

    That the Governor would stack the deck in an effort to further enhance his credentials for Political AdvantageS figures … the State’s citizenry will be the big looser. Many thanks to our Statesmen for doing what they can to expose the truth of matters being asserted and registering their opposition on our behalf!

    Off-shore Wind is in its infancy. The United Kingdom (which reports it is broke) has underwritten a huge investment of off-shore wind turbine installations late last year and more this year. This will provide an invaluable source of information for would be proponents in the United States. They reported they did have to shut down an entire farm following a blade break in high winds among other early experiences.

    In the meantime the United States and Maryland are wallowing around in the quick sands of debt and ostrich-like refusing to pursue effective support and policies toward more commercially viable and consumer friendly sources of oil, natural gas and coal. Today’s (3/1/12) headlines include:
    REPORT: Real inflation at 8%…
    Bernanke Warns Lawmakers Nation Headed for ‘Massive Fiscal Cliff’…
    China holdings of US debt at $1.15 trillion…
    Ron Paul: Fed’s ‘going to self-destruct’…

    While we might like to harbor Marytopian dreams of Off-shore Wind grandeur, there is substantial reason to set these dreams aside until we realize the benefits of fiscal responsibility, debt reduction (that are not based on further bleeding of taxpayers) and the UK experience.

    In that onset of increased rates (and where will the “investment” moneys and vehicles be coming from in the meantime?) to pay for this (MOST EXPENSIVE of ALL ENERGY SOURCES) will not supposedly materialize until 2017 … just what conceivable justification is supportable to plunge ahead like lemmings over the cliff?

    I do note that “HOUSE BILL 1051 Sales and Use Tax – Services” includes proposed sales taxes on:
    a transportation service for transmission, distribution, or delivery of electricity or natural gas, if the sale or use of the electricity or natural gas is subject  to the sales and use tax; [to provide covert funding to finance Off-shore Wind ???] 

  2. abby_adams

    Just another example of the culture of corruption in Annapolis. Somehow I remember O’Malley using Ehrlich’s stacking the PSC with “friendly” appointees as an example of failed leadership. Now we have windmill friendly commissioners with partisan approval. But this appointment shouldn’t raise eyebrows?

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