Though legislative sessions may have entered the slow period of the year for political matters, lawmakers in the state capital of Albany are still working away on new laws that are aimed at helping New York state citizens recover and thrive from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The New York State Assembly recently passed legislation aimed at creating the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate. Seeking both further representation for residential utility customers’ interests at the state and federal level and an independent advocate free of divided interests, the move also aims to add New York to the list of states with an autonomous office for such matters.
Currently in New York state, consumers are represented by the Public Service Commission, as well as the Utility Intervention Unit, a division of the Department of State. According to current and present New York state law, neither the Public Service Commission nor the Utility Intervention Unit can act exclusively on behalf of the interest of consumers.
“Utility providers as well as large commercial and industrial customers have an active presence in state and federal regulatory and judicial review proceedings regarding rates and conditions of public service utilities,” New York State Assembly Member and Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee Chair Nily Rozic stated. “However, there is a glaring lack of input from any parties representing consumers. This legislation helps protect consumers and ensures that they have someone in their corner.”
The proposed bill would establish the official New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to serve as an independent supporter and appear on behalf of New York patrons in state and federal regulatory proceedings, as well as judicial review proceedings regarding rates and conditions of public service utilities.
“New York is one of a few states, and by far the largest, without an independent office to represent utility customers,” commented New York State Assembly Member and Codes Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz. “Natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have shined a light on the need for real representation for consumers when it comes to utility services. My legislation will help establish that representation and has the potential to save New Yorkers billions of dollars in averted rate hikes and improved service reliability.”
The position of the utility consumer advocate would be appointed by the governor of New York state and would run a standard six-year term of office. As part of the recently passed legislation, an annual report to be given to the governor and the New York State Assembly would be required from the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate and would thusly also be made available to the public.
“New Yorkers deserve an independent state agency that represents the interests of residential utility customers,” said New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the newly passed legislation. “This legislation will empower consumers by creating an agency that is able to act solely on behalf of the interests of consumers.”
Across the United States, more than forty individual states and the District of Columbia already have an independent state organization that represents the interests of residential utility customers. The move already has several interested groups in New York lauding the decision of the New York State Assembly.
“AARP New York commends the leadership of Assembly Speaker Heastie and Assemblyman Dinowitz on this issue in the New York State Assembly,” AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel noted of the legislation. “Residential utility customers need more independent voices at the table to ensure that consumer issues are heard and acted upon in a process that is largely dominated by utility companies.”
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