Measure Would Allow Ratepayers to Access Written Policy Decisions on the Internet
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo which would require the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to issue all orders in writing, and to post those orders on the Internet, was approved by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 37-0, receiving final legislative approval.
“Ratepayers in New Jersey have a fundamental right to know when the Board of Public Utilities issues a policy decision or regulatory order that affects their lives and their bottom line,” said Senator Weinberg, D-Bergen. “The truth is that the cost of utilities is one of the major contributors to the cost of living, and relatively minor regulatory decisions could result in major out-of-pocket expenses for the State’s ratepayers. This bill would inject some much-needed transparency in the regulation process for the State’s utility overseers.”
“In this age of information, when so much is available on the World Wide Web, New Jersey residents ought to be able to review utility policy decisions from the convenience of their home computer,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “The Internet posting component of this legislation brings utility oversight into the 21st Century, and provides a more convenient dose of transparency over BPU orders. It will ensure that everyone has access to information they need to know about their home utility bill.”
The bill, S-2441, would require the BPU to issue most policy and regulatory decisions – typically done through the adoption of an order following a majority vote of the Board’s five commissioners – in written form. Under the bill, the Board would be permitted to orally issue a temporary order if it deals with a matter of emergency that affects public health and safety, so long as the Board then adopts a subsequent permanent order in written form. Finally, the bill would require that the Board post all orders on its Internet Web site.
Currently, the vast majority of BPU orders are memorialized in written form, with the exception being when a written order is not required or duplicative. An example would be when the Board issues an order to approve a contract – in that instance, the contract operates as the functional equivalent of a Board order.
“While BPU is generally already documenting its policy decisions through written orders, these orders are sometimes hard to access by members of the general public who are affected most,” said Senator Sarlo. “By providing access on the Internet, we can inform ratepayers of decisions which will impact their cost of living, and by requiring all orders to be in written form, we’re treating the BPU like the governmental agency it is.”
“This bill would expose the BPU to the light of public scrutiny, and would ensure that all orders are conducted with a level of transparency and accountability that New Jersey residents have come to expect from their government,” said Senator Weinberg. “We need to get beyond this notion of the BPU as a back-room policy cabal, issuing regulations and contracts with little or no public transparency. At the end of the day, the taxpayers and ratepayers of New Jersey need to be able to review all policy decisions, whether they come from the Legislature or the Board of Public Utilities, and determine if those decisions are in the best interest of the public.”
The bill now heads to the Governor to be signed into law. It was unanimously approved by the Assembly in January.