Friday, February 3, 2012

Minnesota Senate's Ouster of its PUC Chair Ellen Anderson: Partisanship that Fails to Recognize Potential for Bipartisan Agreement on Energy

Earlier this week, Minnesota Senate Republicans voted to oust Public Utility Commission (PUC) Chair Ellen Anderson.  Despite the fact that she had voted with the rest of PUC in almost every vote (of 221 votes in which she participated, the Dayton administration reported that 204 were unanimous and she was in the minority on only 6 votes), she was characterized as biased against some forms of energy due to her earlier leadership in the MInnesota state senate on its renewable energy legislations.  Governor Dayton expressed his dismay with this decision and offered her a senior role in energy policy in his administration, which she accepted.

Beyond setting a fractious tone for the spring, this action by the Minnesota Senate Republicans reflects exactly what is wrong with dialogue over energy in this country.  There are so many win-wins if people would only work together.  Ellen Anderson was making such an effort during her tenure at the PUC, working collaboratively with that bi-partisan group, and clearly recognized and took seriously the fact that her quasi-judicial role was different than her Senate one. Her voting record on the PUC reflects that bi-partisanship.

Most people in this country agree that energy should be affordable, reliable, and as clean as possible without sacrificing affordability and reliability.  People also agree that the United States should decrease its reliance on foreign sources.  A University of Texas poll last fall confirms this: "Of more than 3,400 consumers surveyed, 84 percent were worried about U.S. consumption of oil from foreign sources and 76 percent about a lack of progress in developing better ways to use energy efficiently and develop renewable sources." 

Within Minnesota, a number of mayors from both Democratic and Republican leaning cities are helping their cities save money by conserving energy and using it more efficiently.  Our regional transmission organization is increasingly integrating wind onto the grid because the middle of the country has the highest onshore wind capacity in the United States and wind provides a cheap source of energy. 

Especially in these tough economic times, even in a Presidential election year, we need to look beyond what divides us and find sensible common ground.  The public interest demands that.  Ellen Anderson's ouster is a discouraging sign about politicians willingness to do so.

Hari Osofsky

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