A controversial bill to prohibit Arizona’s utility regulators from setting state energy policy appears dead after a Republican senator decided he cannot support it.
Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, told the Arizona Capitol Times on Thursday that he still has too many outstanding questions about SB1175, which would allow only the Legislature to set energy policy. The House and Senate just don’t have the same expertise as the Arizona Corporation Commission, Boyer said.
“They have 200 staffers devoted just to energy policy at Corp Comm,” Boyer said. “We have two, one in the House and one in the Senate. So, I’m hesitant to have this major shift.”
Because all legislative Democrats oppose SB1175 — and an identical bill, HB2248, that passed the state House on a party-line vote last week — a single Republican’s concerns spell defeat for the bill. Boyer said he told Senate sponsor Sine Kerr, R-Buckeye, that he would not vote for her bill if she brought it to the floor. Kerr did not immediately return a phone call.
The bill’s death is a rebuke to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has pushed for the Legislature to take control of energy policy. On Jan. 15, just a few days into the legislative session, Ducey signalled his support during a public interview at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce.
“I want to see the corporation commission setting rates and the Legislature setting energy policy and I hope that will be straightened out in this session,” Ducey said.
Both the governor and Republican lawmakers opposed the more stringent clean energy rules the Corporation Commission adopted in November. The rules, approved by three Republican commissioners and one Democrat, included a mandate that electric utilities be emission-free by 2050.
In response, Kerr and Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, filed their twin bills to retroactively prohibit the Arizona Corporation Commission from regulating electricity generation retroactive to June 30, 2020 — shortly before the commission created its draft rules.
Kerr, Griffin, House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Senate President Karen Fann sent the corporation commission a letter in February decrying the new rules as “rushed” and “based on personal legacies and political agendas.”
“This forced the public to accept a final decision during an election year, apparently when the Commission thought no one was watching, in order to eke out a series of political and financial wins for industry insiders and outgoing commissioners,” the lawmakers wrote, in a slightly veiled reference to former commission chairman Bob Burns.
Burns said it’s good news the bills, which he believes to be unconstitutional, won’t make their way to Ducey’s desk. He previously wrote a scathing response to the letter from Fann, Bowers, Griffin and Kerr.
“It is almost beyond belief that you as members of the Legislature, who have introduced and are moving blatantly unconstitutional bills, would accuse the commission of some misbehavior,” Burns wrote.
Essentially, Burns told lawmakers to stay in their lane, and argued that if lawmakers start getting involved in Corporation Commission business such as determining energy companies’ portfolios, Arizona Public Service would simply buy lawmakers as it has tried to buy commissioners when it poured more than $10 million into the 2014 campaigns of former commissioners Tom Forese and Doug Little.
Burns argued that the commission is the appropriate venue to decide these issues, not only because that’s what the commission is constitutionally charged with doing, but also because commissioners are full-time professional regulators who are laser focused on utility issues – “no 100-day session, no distraction of hundreds of other important issues.”
APS, after pressure from Democratic Commissioner Anna Tovar, came out in opposition to the legislation on March 9. Burns said the Commission can now vote uninterrupted on the final plan next month, when it’s expected to pass 3-2.
Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, was lobbying against the two measures and welcomed the news that Boyer opposed the bills.
“These bills are bad public policy, not to mention have constitutional issues,” she said. “We appreciate that Senator Boyer recognizes the problems with them. They’re bad for the economy, bad for clean energy — which is a key part of our economy — and obviously will affect the work at the Corporation Commission to try to reduce carbon emissions and really make our state a leader in this area.”
Sen. Kirsten Engel, the Tucson Democrat who has led opposition in the Senate, agreed with Boyer that the Legislature lacks the expertise or attention to handle energy policy.
“We’re balancing too many different issues at the same time. Education, tax policy, insurance measures, just about everything,” she said. “I don’t trust the legislature to do an adequate job on this. It’s complicated, and we have too much on our plates.”
Engel said she was grateful to hear the bills are likely dead, but she won’t fully relax until the legislative session is over and she’s sure they’re really dead.
“At the Arizona Legislature, you always have to be worried that some of these bills might come back, that they might pop up in the budget or some other way,” she said.