Tranel: From our Public Service Commission, we all deserve better

Monica Tranel

In two recent decisions, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the Public Service Commission (PSC) broke the law when it imposed harsh contract terms on renewable energy developers who sought to sell power to the state’s largest regulated utility.

These rulings were welcome not only because they opened the path to future renewable energy development, but also because they affirmed a fundamental principle of American democracy: Nobody—no person, nor government official, nor government agency—is above the law.

In another way, however, the rulings constitute too little and have come too late. The wrangling that ended in our state’s Supreme Court started with PSC decisions made years ago. What we must never forget is that the PSC failed us. The PSC chose to protect the profits of a monopoly utility instead of protecting lower rates and cleaner air for us Montanans.

We also must remember that the court had to intervene because the PSC’s members didn’t do their jobs. What’s more, these commissioners stifled American innovation and American investment in our communities. Their misconduct resulted in the loss of large investments in Montana. Investments that would have been a boon to many of our local economies. Investments that could have helped secure Montana’s role as a leader in the energy transition already happening in so many other states.

The overarching lesson from all of this is that we cannot sustain a true and robust democracy if we have to rely on the courts alone to keep public officials on the right side of the law.

To the contrary: Whether as citizens, government officials, consumers or business executives, we all need to commit ourselves to playing by the rules. And those rules are not only our laws, but also the norms required of any civil society:

Mutual respect. Empathy. Honesty. Fairness. Integrity.

Regrettably, the news has been full of reports about the current PSC’s members refusal to play by the rules. News of their trivial political rivalries, their childish infighting, their neglect and disregard of the work that commissioners were elected to do—and are being paid to do. This shirking of responsibility is unacceptable.  Montanans deserve better. Montanans deserve to be represented by commissioners who will work hard and will bring professionalism, competence and relevant experience to the job.

The last line in the Declaration of Independence includes these solemn words:

“…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

I am running for the Public Service Commission because I believe deeply in these words of our Founders. We must honor our history, and our founders’ Declaration, in making a mutual pledge to each other to restore integrity to our democratic institutions. As your Commissioner, I will fight for you, and work to ensure that the PSC protects consumers, rather than wealthy corporations.

I pledge to you that I will work tirelessly to serve the public interest. I will bring my experience, training and energy to bear on my efforts.  I will insist on transparency.  My door will always be open to you. I pledge to serve my fellow Montanans, and the Montana that I grew up in, honorably. And I am asking for your support.