- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The chairman of a state board leading an agency that represents home and small-business utility consumers resigned Wednesday, partially out of frustration over major changes other board members are considering for the agency.

Brian Weber, of Garden City, announced his resignation from the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board Wednesday, five days after other board members discussed either dissolving the agency or changing its mission to focus on fighting federal clean-air regulations, The Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1NqtRKi ).

CURB’s main mission is to represent residential and small-business utility customers in Kansas Corporation Commission rate cases. It also sets rates for private-sector, for-profit utilities and has represented utility customers’ interests at the Legislature. Recently, CURB participated in settlement negotiations with Westar Energy that resulted in a $78 million net rate increase, instead of the $152 million Westar sought.

Weber said a desire to spend more time with his family and business were major factors in his decision to resign but also said he was bothered by the CURB board’s proposed new direction.

“If CURB were to stop litigating rate cases and were to focus on other matters, I don’t foresee that you’d get the results you have now (that benefit) small business and individual ratepayers collectively,” Weber said.

At a meeting on Friday, all other board members discussed changing the organization’s focus to working with utilities to fight federal Clean Power Plan regulations.

“Would we be better off taking our budget and fighting (for) that?” board member James Mullin III said. “If we’re talking about affecting the consumer’s bottom line, if we could defeat that mandate from the EPA we would save way more.”

The board last week also stripped acting consumer counsel Niki Christopher of her traditional roles of representing consumers in the Legislature and of speaking to the news media about utility matters. Board members said they would go to Topeka for legislative business as needed and would answer reporters’ questions themselves.

Christopher told the board she doesn’t believe CURB has the authority to change its mission and members would need state lawmakers’ permission to oppose the EPA. She also warned that the agency will lose influence if staff isn’t present in the Legislature daily and she can’t respond immediately to legislators’ requests for information.

The board authorized Christopher to handle daily administrative functions and any cases that CURB has already joined but she will need permission to intervene in any new cases.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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