- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Members of the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) filed a lawsuit yesterday to try to protect their jobs, challenging a new law that would fire the five current members and require appointment of a new panel.

The suit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of the commission and its chairman, Kenneth Schisler.

Andrew Radding, an attorney for Mr. Schisler, said the suit challenges only the two sections of the law dealing with replacing the commission members.

It does not deal with other provisions, including the section limiting rate increases for 1.1 million residential customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) to 15 percent for 11 months beginning July 1.

Without the law or some other rate-relief plan, BGE electricity rates were scheduled to increase by 72 percent July 1.

The complaint filed on behalf of Mr. Schisler said the law “is nothing more than a politically motivated attempt by the General Assembly to circumvent the provisions of the Maryland constitution, which only permits the removal of the incumbent commissioners for cause by the governor.”

The lawsuit asked for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to keep the commissioners from being fired while the case is considered in circuit court.

The governor-appointed PSC was the focus of much of the debate on the rate-relief bill at a special session of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly two weeks ago.

Democratic lawmakers criticized commissioners for not looking out for the best interests of consumers, saying the four members appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were more interested in protecting utility companies than customers.

But Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, and Mr. Schisler said that the commission did as much as it could to keep rates down and that commissioners were being made scapegoats by Democrats in an election-year ploy to try to defuse voter anger over the planned 72 percent rate increase.

PSC spokeswoman Christine Nizer said after reviewing the law, “we thought the provisions dealing with the commission were unconstitutional.”

“The court case only speaks to the provisions dealing with the removal of the commissioners and does not impact the rest of the law,” she said.

Lawmakers acted on advice from the state Attorney General’s Office that the legislature had the authority to reconstitute the commission and require appointment of new members because it had created the panel.

The law allows Mr. Ehrlich to appoint the five new members from a list of names submitted by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats.

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