Can utilities use ratepayer funds for political activity?

If the “Ethics in Energy Act” passes, utilities nationwide would no longer be able to use customer payments to play politics.

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Environment America joined dozens of organizations in supporting legislation that aims to prevent utility companies from forcing customers to subsidize their political activities. Utility companies and the trade associations they pay dues to, are frequent opponents of policies that supports renewable energy.

The “Ethics in Energy Act” introduced by Representative Kathy Castor of Florida directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to prohibit utilities from recovering political expenses from ratepayers. Castor and the two leading cosponsors, Representatives Sean Casten of Illinois and Jamaal Bowman of New York, each represent states where utilities have used ratepayer funds for political activity against the public interest.

What utilities have used ratepayer funds for shady political purposes?

  •  Florida Power & Light: The Orlando Sentinel reported that Florida Power & Light paid millions of dollars from ratepayers to political consultants who had engineered a scheme to siphon votes away from targeted state legislators who were working to hold FPL accountable.
  • ComEd: Illinois regulators ordered ComEd, an Exelon subsidiary, to refund $38 million to customers for using ratepayer funds as part of a bribery scheme.
  • National Fuel: The New York gas utility National Fuel reportedly made its customers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars on advocacy materials that opposed electrification.

“Utility companies should be operating in the best interest of ratepayers, not raising electric bills to bankroll deceitful political activities and block clean energy,” wrote Rep. Castor in a press release

The policy isn’t only being pursued in Congress. According to the Energy and Policy Institute, ColoradoConnecticut, and Maine have enacted laws in recent months to prohibit utilities from charging ratepayers for political activities.

“States are leading the way,” said Johanna Neumann, Senior Director of the Campaign for 100% Renewable Energy at Environment America. “Now Congress needs catch up and make sure no one’s utility payments inadvertently undermine what’s good for their health and the environment.”


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