- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Members of the Citizens’ Utility Ratepayer Board are pulling back from proposals they discussed last week to either change the agency’s mission or dissolve it, saying that the comments were mostly hypothetical.

In a meeting last week, board members discussed refocusing the agency from representing residential and small-business utility customers in Kansas Corporation Commission to fighting new federal clean air regulations. They also debated eliminating CURB as an independent agency and transferring its consumer counsel function to the attorney general’s office.

During a teleconference meeting Thursday, the board elected Ellen Janoski as chairwoman to replace Brian Webster, who resigned on Wednesday in part out of frustration with the proposals discussed last week. Janoski said she wanted the agency to make changes to become more efficient, The Wichita Eagle reported (https://bit.ly/1Idrrjh ).

Board member James Mullin II spoke most prominently last week about whether CURB was still needed. Janoski said Mullin’s comments were “a couple hypothetical sentences” in a long meeting.

“Lenny’s whole point was: If we were gone tomorrow, would it make a difference?” Janoski said. “He didn’t say we were going to be gone tomorrow, that we were closing our doors, so I think it is important to clarify that with the media.”

Mullin said Thursday the board’s decision last week to advertise for a new consumer counsel should have indicated there were no plans to dissolve the agency.

Janoski said it wasn’t realistic for the agency to take on the Environmental Protection Agency over its new federal clean-air rules but CURB should educate Kansas consumers about how the rules are affecting their electric bills.

CURB intends to study how other states represent small utility consumers to see if Kansas could make improvements but as for eliminating the agency and putting the consumer counsel under the attorney general, she said,

“I don’t think that’s probably the best option for us in Kansas,” she said.

The board stuck with a decision it made last week for board members to take over acting consumer counsel Niki Christopher’s traditional roles of representing CURB in the legislature and speaking to the media.

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

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