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For Immediate Release: November 26, 2013
Contact: Rob Thormeyer, 202-898-9382, rthormeyer@naruc.org

Equipped to Lead: Installation Remarks of NARUC President Colette Honorable of Arkansas

The following remarks were delivered by NARUC President Colette D. Honorable on Nov. 19, 2013, during the 125th Annual NARUC Meeting. The remarks are printed as prepared for delivery:

NARUC: Equipped to Lead

This is such a special moment in the history of this fine organization. As you know, NARUC now celebrates 125 years of effective regulation. Since 1889, NARUC has been a valued source of education, leadership and consensus building with a goal of improving the quality of effective utility regulation throughout the United States.

I'd like to commend President Phil Jones on an excellent year here at NARUC. Wouldn't you agree?

I know that I stand between you and your entree, so let me get down to brass tacks. My theme for the upcoming year will be: Equipped to Lead: 125 Years of Effective Regulation

During my tenure as President, I hope to focus on the following initiatives:

1. Safety. Among our core responsibilities as economic regulators, we must ensure that public utilities provide safe utility service. With regard to gas pipelines, we have indeed made improvements in our inspection of intrastate pipelines, and our responsiveness to requests for ratemaking mechanisms for pipeline replacement and accelerated pipeline replacement.

According to the American Gas Association, in the past decade, natural gas utilities have installed updated plastic lines at a rate of 30,000 miles per year, connecting new customers or replacing older pipeline infrastructure.

Thanks to these efforts, there are nearly 1.3 million miles of plastic pipe in the natural gas system today, along with more than 1.1 million miles of cathodically-protected steel pipeline. There has been a 46 percent decrease in the amount of cast iron main since 1985, and only 3 percent of the entire national gas distribution system is composed of cast iron mains – a figure that is continuously being reduced as pipeline operators implement accelerated pipeline replacement programs- as approved by their respective regulators. And serious incidents involving cast iron mains have also declined – dropping by a difference of 86 percent between 1985 and 2012.

Here at NARUC, our collective work in this area spans several decades, and we are especially proud of the work of our Committee on Gas, Subcommittee on Pipeline Safety and the Staff Subcommittee on Pipeline Safety, comprised of our NAPSR colleagues. I was honored to serve as the first Chair of the Pipeline Safety Task Force, formed nearly three years ago, and look forward to forging ahead for greater future successes. Together we will ramp up our efforts to make commissioners aware of this significant responsibility, of best practices from leading states in this area, and we will continue to educate regulators, our staff members and stakeholders about our shared responsibility, including members of industry who stand on the front lines of ensuring safety. We also look forward to strengthening our partnership with the Department of Transportation and PHMSA in the years ahead.

Why should this topic be of interest to you? Even though we've seen improvements, there is still work to be done. Nationwide, we continue to see incidents involving explosions due to excavations or leaks. We see accidents resulting in the loss of life throughout the US. One life lost in such an incident is one too many.

I should mention here the importance of safety for those in the electric sector as well. In the past year there have been a number of accidents and incidents related to the work of members of the utility industry in the field. Unfortunately, one incident in Arkansas resulted in the loss of the life of a lineman several years ago- as the old saying goes, there but by the grace of God we go. We should continue honoring the mantra of "Safety First" and support those who work in the field. We should ask ourselves what we can do to ensure that they return home safely to their families each and every day.

I will also be focusing on the resiliency of the grid. We must ensure that, in addition to fending off cyber and physical security attacks, that we are prepared for ever-increasing disasters and are equipped to respond in unprecedented fashion. Disaster preparedness and response isn't just relegated to southern and coastal states anymore, or states in tornado alley. Whether it is contending with ice storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, superstorms, fires or explosions, we must engage with others who also have responsibility to respond, and lend our expertise where needed. Through engagement with EEI, NARUC has been educated about the next level of interutility cooperation to bring in utility workers, trucks and other supplies from across the nation to respond to Superstorm Sandy. I call upon the chairs of our respective commissions to ensure that your commission is actively engaged with your Department of Emergency Management to prepare for the next unfortunate incident that may come your way.

I also commend a current NARUC publication for your review and edification. “Resilience in Regulated Utilities” made its debut at this here and is authored by NARUC staffers Miles Keogh and Christina Cody. Do you know what resilience is? Do you know how we achieve it? We should focus more on this issue and our respective roles as regulators, and I thank Miles and Christina for their fine work.

A third focus will be on strengthening reliability. When I first became a regulator, more than six years ago, I wasn't as involved in regional transmission organization issues, but thanks to the evolution of regional processes, I and many colleagues from coast to coast focus heavily on transmission and reliability related issues. Our States, and more importantly, our respective consumers, are better for it. As we focus on transmission buildout, implementing Order 1000 and integrating EPA environmental regulations into our world of economic regulation, we can't lose sight of our responsibility to keep the lights on. We must use all of the tools in our tool box--including advancing technologies and telecommunications--to improve efficiencies and energy delivery. This delicate work will require engagement, vigilance and commitment by each of us.

Last, but certainly not least, diversity must be a goal for us, in many respects. Traditionally, diversity of fuel generation has been our strength. In Arkansas, we have been blessed to have a diverse portfolio of nuclear, gas, coal, renewables and energy efficiency to provide reliable, lowest cost generation for consumers in our state. Fuel diversity will be key in getting us over the hurdles of transitioning to leaner, cleaner generation fleets. Natural gas will continue to be a "go-to" fuel for the future, and it has dramatically changed the outlook for generation sources for years to come. It will also revolutionize global gas markets with the future export of LNG at extremely competitive prices. For several States represented here today, nuclear is also part of the solution, and I applaud NARUC's work in the area of fee collection and look forward to continuing to advocate for what is best for consumers. The future is bright for the US and, more broadly, North America.

And speaking of the nuclear waste fees, as you may have heard the U.S. Court of Appeals just this morning ruled in our favor and ordered the Department of Energy to zero-out the fees charged to consumers that go into the Nuclear Waste Fund. We are still reviewing the decision, but this is great news for consumers. I’d like to publicly thank the NARUC leadership and staff, especially General Counsel Brad Ramsay, who could not join us this week because he is arguing on our behalf in a case regarding the Federal Communications Commission. The next time you see Brad, give him a big thank you.

This is the kind of good, important work NARUC does. This is why I am so proud of all of us for taking on these diverse challenges. And on the issue of diversity, workforce diversity and succession planning should be on the minds of every manager and policymaker in the room today. By this year, 2013, some 40% of the energy workforce became eligible for retirement. What are you doing to develop a strong, comprehensive succession plan? What are we doing collectively? Are we encouraging students to pursue careers in engineering, accounting, the law and similar fields to support this industry? It is imperative that we focus collectively on the pipeline that will produce strong, educated energy sector workforce employees going forward. And it is equally imperative that the employees that work on the wires, poles and pipes, as well as those in the C-suite and boardrooms reflect the consumers that we serve. This tent is big enough for all of us, and it's an incredibly exciting time to work in the energy sector.

We should applaud the work of the Utility Marketplace Access Subcommittee which addresses issues of diversity and access regularly throughout the year. NARUC leadership has consistently supported this effort, and I pledge mine as well. I'm honored to have been a member of this committee. To demonstrate my commitment, I have received support from the Executive Committee to ensure that the UMA Subcommittee Chair going forward will be a voting member of the board. I'm also pleased to announce here today that, upon adjournment of this Annual Meeting, The Honorable Nikki Hall of South Carolina will be tapped to serve as Chair of UMA.

We should also embrace an international effort focusing on celebrating diversity. The International Confederation of Energy Regulators, or ICER, includes a wonderful new initiative, Women in Energy, or WIE. WIE strives to support the advancement of women working in the energy sector. WIE has launched a virtual Mentoring Program furthers WIE’s goals of creating an international collaborative women’s network that enables women in energy to draw support, advice and a wealth of knowledge from experienced women and men across the globe while sharing professional knowledge.

We encourage commissioners--both men and women--to serve as mentors, and invite women regulators or women who serve on as commission staff members to sign up to request a mentor. Look for an email soon from Erin Hammel of NARUC with more information.

Thank Yous

Speaking of mentors, I have been blessed by the benefit of a very special commissioner who has served as my mentor and advisor during my tenure at NARUC. Commissioner Emeritus and former NARUC President David Coen of Vermont has been a true mentor in every sense of the word- he has been a counselor, advisor, and friend. Thank you, dear mentor, for everything you've done to aid me in becoming an effective regulator over the years.

I have a few other "thank yous" and I'll take my seat. I'm so grateful to Governor Mike Beebe, the most popular governor in the US today, and a dear friend. I've appreciated his support and confidence every step of the way. Many of you met him and our lovely First Lady, Ginger Beebe, during MARC in June. Aren't they incredible?

I am so appreciative to my colleagues and staff at the Arkansas Public Service Commission- Commissioners Butch Reeves and Elana Wills. I am beyond blessed to be surrounded by them- they are both bright, dedicated and so committed to this work- and to work with two fine individuals who are public servants in every sense of the word. Our staff is incredible- two are represented here today- David Lewis of our Commissioners Staff and Bobby Henry- our Pipeline Safety Chief, who are spectacular in their roles and make us proud.

Thank MARC and SEARUC

Thank Officers: First Vice President Lisa Edgar, Second Vice President Susan Ackerman, Treasurer David Ziegner, Commissioners Jim Gardner and Jack Betkoski, and NARUC Executive Director Charles Gray.

President Jones

Thank NARUC Staff

Thank my family/friends and introduce them.

 

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NARUC is a non-profit organization founded in 1889 whose members include the governmental agencies that are engaged in the regulation of utilities and carriers in the fifty States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NARUC's member agencies regulate telecommunications, energy, and water utilities. NARUC represents the interests of State public utility commissions before the three branches of the Federal government.

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