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Latest LPSC vote answers, raises questions

The first big issue handled by the post-election Louisiana Public Service Commission may have signaled the future direction the body might take.

Last month, the PSC adopted much more free market-friendly regulations regarding hauling hazardous waste. Under the old rules, barriers to entry restricted the number of certified haulers so that only 13 could have licenses to haul any kind of waste. New rules will require review for financial stability and an evaluation of capability and do not allow, as under the old rules, current holders essentially to have a veto power over the granting of licenses and also removes a process that was prohibitively expensive.

Prompting the move, the Legislature passed Act 278 last year, which the new PSC regulations essentially track. However, that law presented a constitutional question, since Art. IV Sec. 21 allocates power over “common carriers” to the PSC. R.S. 45:162 provides a definition for that which includes hazardous waste transport, a point that came up in the House of Representatives debate over the bill. Yet it passed it overwhelmingly in bipartisan fashion, and the Senate did the same.

Of course, the Legislature could have changed that statute to remove waste haulers as common carriers, but did not. Subsequently, the PSC challenged the Legislature in court, although a recent ruling determined a lack of standing at this point.

That became moot when the PSC voted 4-1 in favor of the new regulations. Only Republican Mike Francis voted against that, citing the constitutional question. While Republican Eric Skrmetta joined the majority, he also expressed skepticism over the law’s constitutionality, meaning his affirmative vote could trigger a reconsideration. Democrats Foster Campbell and Lambert Bossiere voted in favor, along with the newest member, Republican Craig Greene, who only weeks ago won election to the panel.

In his election this fall, because Greene supported a liberal Democrat, Gov. John Bel Edwards, in the 2015 gubernatorial runoff contest, he faced questions over whether he brought adequate conservative credentials to the job. At first glance, his voting with the liberals on the matter might lend credence to the view that he harbored stealth liberal views.

But the new rules’ free market bent certainly follow conservative philosophy. And the statements of Francis and Skrmetta, while valid, have nothing to do with the PSC exerting its authority on the issue. Voting against an exercise of PSC authority because it has that authority makes no sense.

Perhaps the real question is why the Democrats, both of whom have shown fondness for pushing government intervention beyond necessity for it, went the opposite of their track records. Campbell said the old system reeked of cronyism, yet in 2008 did not go along with changes that would have opened it up. In 2012, when another reform effort came, he did align himself with broad changes, only to have the LPSC reverse itself and he signed on to a batch of largely insignificant alterations.

Bossiere’s change of heart seems even more sudden and unexpected. He rejected the significant reforms both in 2008 and 2012. This time, with little direct comment about the merits of the coming general order, he favored it.

So, Greene did align himself with Democrats, but for conservative reasons, which provides some evidence that his support of Edwards may prove an aberration as far as his political views go. As such, for the foreseeable future the PSC might act with a light regulatory touch.

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