Frequently Asked Questions

1. What public services are regulated by state commissions?

Utility Commissions are most known as energy regulators—overseeing your gas and electric companies. However, other public services regulated (depending on jurisdiction) include telecommunications (often landline only), transportation (e.g., taxis and limousines), cable, water, bridges, and railways.

 

2. Why isn’t the Commission a stronger consumer advocate? Isn’t that the purpose of the Commission—to fight for the consumer?

State regulatory commissions are quasi-judicial, meaning they function much like court proceedings, particularly with respect to contested proceedings (e.g., rate cases, mergers). Commissions, therefore, must balance the rights and needs of all parties affected by matters before them.

To assist consumers, many Commissions have consumer complaint/external affairs divisions that receive complaints, educate ratepayers/public, and provide other resources.

 

3. Commissioners often do not discuss their opinions of cases until after it has concluded—and then it’s in a long legal document. Why can’t they share their thoughts while the case is going on? The utility companies’ lawyers and other groups are always in the news.

Because of the quasi-judicial nature of Commissions—the Commissioners (and often staff/attorneys), are prevented from discussing cases outside of the hearing room. Their comments must remain part of the legal record for the case. Therefore, many states have strict policies regarding outside “ex parte” communications.

 

4. Do you have to be a lawyer to work for a Commission? Other than Commissioners and their administrative staff, who else works for a Commission?

No, having a law degree is not necessarily a prerequisite.

Aside from Commissioners, there are staff attorneys, economists, accountants, engineers, communications staff, external affairs/complaint division staff, docket room staff, and clerks. The number and type of staff vary across Commissions.

 

5. Is there special training required before or after someone becomes a Commissioner?

Relevant skills and training may often play a role in determining who is appointed or elected. Many new Commissioners and staff attend national training sessions (e.g., Camp NARUC) that provide in-depth training and education on regulatory principles and procedures.

 

6. My Commissioner is appointed by our governor. Are all Commissioners appointed?

No, not all Commissioners are appointed. In many states, they are elected.

 

7. What do Commissions do besides hear rate cases and mergers?

Commissions often hold special hearings after storms and major outages to take reports from utility companies, receive information from customers, review staff and consumer advocate filings to determine if the utilities responded in a reasonable manner according to statutes.

Commissions also undertake rulemaking proceedings if it is determined (from previous hearings or proceedings) that a new law or a change in the law is required.

In addition, Commissions hold weekly administrative-type meetings or sessions for routine matters that are often resolved during the course of the meeting.

 

8. How can I make sure the Commission hears my concerns during a rate case or other hearing?

To fully participate, be sure to get the case number for the hearing or matter that is before your Commission. Most, if not all states, require notice of public comment hearings to be made public through newspaper advertisements, website announcements, press releases, etc. You can also contact your Commission to confirm the details concerning public hearings. If your state has a utility consumer advocate, that office can provide you with background information on the case. In addition to public comment hearings, Commissions also have mechanisms in place for interested parties to submit written comments, which should be included in the announcement.

See our section on How to Prepare an Effective Public Comment

 

9. What should I do if I think there is something wrong with my utility meter?

You have a right to request that a regulated gas, electric, or water company test your meter if you believe it may not accurately reflect your usage. In many states, this should be free of charge (at least for the initial request), so check with your Commission. Also, for a nominal fee, many states will send a member of the Commission's technical staff to supervise the test (often known in some states as a referee test).