No friend of power consumers
In recent weeks The Plain Dealer and other papers have exposed outrageous actions by Rob Tongren, the Ohio Consumers' Counsel who is supposed to represent the interests of consumers in utility rate cases. Failure to challenge power companies' claims during Ohio's deregulation process may have cost consumers billions of dollars in higher utility bills. Tongren has been forced to resign.
Good riddance to Tongren
The following editorial appeared in The Plain Dealer on November 7, 2003.
Good riddance to Rob Tongren, Ohio's so-called consumers' counsel. Tongren resigned this week, hounded from office by reports of his ill-fated plot to make a consultant's report disappear and of his investment ties to utilities under his purvey.
Even so, the two investigations under way into his shredding of a LaCapra Associates of Boston report, which argued that the FirstEnergy Corp. deserved only an estimated $2.6 billion for its past investments, should continue.
As we know, Tongren didn't allow consultants to contest FirstEnergy's much higher estimates during deregulation talks, and the company got an apparently exorbitant, $8.7 billion handout from consumers. The taxpayer-financed, $579,000 report finally became public only after the consultants found a copy in their computers.
It's not in ratepayers' interests to replace Tongren with another weak-kneed "advocate" who wants to play nice with utility companies. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who selects the members of the governing board, must use his considerable leverage to ensure that the OCC selects a counsel committed to consumers.
We raise this point because Jerome Solove, OCC's governing board chairman, once seemed convinced that the scandal was much ado about nothing. That attitude would open the door to another back-slapping advocate, which should mortify the board.
Ratepayers should not have to worry that they may have been misled into giving FirstEnergy Corp. a lavish handout even as they were slammed by a frigid economy.
They shouldn't have to fret that the next advocate will - like Tongren - hold utility stocks while negotiating and playing golf with utility executives.
And they shouldn't have to wonder which embarrassing reports, paid for out of their hard-earned money, will be shredded.
Ohioans need an advocate prepared to give utility companies their fair share and nothing more. The OCC's governing board should find such a candidate, or be prepared to follow Tongren off the plank.
Ohio Citizen Action coverage of the scandal