FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2016
Gabe Elsner, Energy and Policy Institute, [email protected]
Allison Fisher, Public Citizen, [email protected]
Public interest organizations are calling for the Maryland State Senate Executive Nominations Committee to reject Governor Larry Hogan’s appointment of Michael Richard to the Public Service Commission (PSC). The groups cite a series of emails that question whether Gov. Hogan’s staff and Michael Richard engaged in ex parte communications regarding business before the PSC. Ex parte rules prevent parties, with business before the PSC, from communicating with commissioners and their staff outside of official proceedings.
Governor Hogan tapped his former Deputy Chief of Staff to serve on the PSC in January. As a recess appointee, Richard has been an acting commissioner while awaiting confirmation by the Senate. The Executive Nominations Committee is scheduled to vote on his appointment on Monday.
“It’s clear that Michael Richard is unfit to serve as an impartial commissioner on the Maryland Public Service Commission. The Maryland Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee should reject his nomination based on Richards’ history skirting Maryland law surrounding the conduct of Public Service Commissioners,” said Gabe Elsner, Executive Director of Energy & Policy Institute.
The emails, obtained via the Maryland Public Information Act by Public Citizen, demonstrate that in just the first month of his appointment Michael Richard coordinated with his previous office on matters both confidential and restricted.
“It is alarming that Richard wasted no time in coordinating with the Governor’s office. Not only do his actions appear to violate Maryland law, but they demonstrate poor judgement and lack of understanding of the role of the PSC as an independent judicial body,” said Allison Fisher, Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program.
The emails raise legal and ethical issues regarding conduct of Richard including whether:
- He violated the rule which forbids a party from communicating with a commissioner outside of official proceedings regarding business before the PSC. In an email from February 11 regarding the EmPower hearings before the PSC, Richard emails Governor Hogan’s Deputy Secretary Mary Beth Tung saying “This will begin our first potential opportunity to begin putting our imprint on this significant energy tax policy. There is time, but this will be a significant and very public PSC action, so early Governor’s office direction, planning and Executive Brand coordination on related policies will be important.” The Governor’s office is a party to the EmPower hearings through the Maryland Energy Administration. See Md. PUBLIC UTILITIES Code Ann. § 3-108.
- In an email from January 29, Richard notifies Gov. Hogan’s office regarding an offshore wind application. Richards notes that “This is NOT yet public information, but I wanted you to be aware.” Richard appears to have violated rules regarding offshore wind applications, which detail that the application shall be kept confidential during both the 30-day internal administrative review and the 180-day public application period. See COMAR 20.61.06.01.
Email communications between Richard and Governor Hogan’s staff create a disturbing picture of undue influence over decisions before the purportedly independent Public Service Commission and raise the question of whether Maryland law governing the PSC, including the law on ex parte communications has been violated. By rejecting Richard’s nomination, the senate will send a clear message to the administration that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.