Reform of PSC will address many issues

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I want to thank all of you who sent notes of congratulations and encouragement after my last appearance in this space.

The Riley Institute's Wilkins Award as the Legislator of the Year was a special honor for both Rose and me. The fact that so many of our friends, as well as folks who had only recently learned of my history and service, would reach out to us, was both amazing and appreciated.

I think that the number of notes and letters impressed even our children, who know that Dad goes to Columbia a lot, but not too many of the particulars.

I was a minor celebrity in the Newton household, although I was immediately replaced by the performance of Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza.

Fame is fleeting among those who see the recipient of any award at breakfast the next morning.

My recent appearance in this space also noted that the House Ratepayers Protection Committee had produced six pieces of legislation for the current session of the legislature, dealing with the aftermath of the abandonment of the V.C. Summer nuclear project. They were an expression of our disappointment in how the consortium of utilities seeking to build a nuclear power plant to secure the energy future of South Carolina had bungled the task.

We were also disappointed in how the consortium had misused our legislative permission to ask ratepayers to pay in advance for that future energy security.

The six measures proffered by the Ratepayers Protection Committee were also a reflection of the General Assembly's disappointment in the lax oversight provided by the aforementioned consortium.

Last week, we in the House voted, 108 to 1, to reform the Public Service Commission (PSC) to: strengthen the ethical standards to limit outside utility influence; to require stricter questioning of parties by commissioners before making a decision; to provide the ability to inspect utility construction sites; and to stagger the election terms for current commissioners.

The PSC is the agency authorized by the legislature to regulate utilities and set power rates. The PSC also is the agency that approved the nine SCE&G rate increases used to fund the V.C. Summer project. That is the tens of millions of additional dollars extracted from our state's ratepayers, each month, for the now abandoned nuclear project.

What the House has passed is a more defined role for the PSC in the goal of preventing another massive debacle in the future.

On a personal note, my reason for seeking a seat in the House was to support the notion, somewhat alien to our state, that public service is not a way to advance one's personal business, or that of one's employer, but to advance the interests of the regular folks of our state.

They are residents with no lobbyists, no insider friends, but who pay taxes and play by the rules. In truth, I would prefer to go back to my law practice, rather than sell my vote for any price.

Your trust is my reward. I won't have it any other way.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives.

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