- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Democrats on a Maine legislative panel said Thursday they need more time before voting on Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee to a board that regulates utilities in the state, drawing sharp criticism from Republicans who accused them of playing politics with the governor’s pick.

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted 7-6 along party lines to put off their decision on whether to endorse Bruce Williamson’s nomination by the Republican governor to the Public Utilities Commission. Legislative committees typically vote the same day they hold a public hearing for a nominee, but delaying a vote is not unheard of.

Democratic Rep. Mark Dion, committee chairman, said it’s a significant appointment that should be considered carefully. Commissioners serve on the three-person panel for six years and play a large role in shaping energy policy in the state.

“We shouldn’t be making key policy decisions in 10-minute blocks,” Dion said.

But Republican Rep. Larry Dunphy called the move “dirty, rotten, nasty politics.”

“They are posturing,” he said. “They’re posturing because they can.”

Williamson, a senior economist at the Institute for Nuclear Security at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy, was grilled by the committee for more than two hours. He told lawmakers he would be a fair judge who would bring to the commission an expertise of economics and a passion about the energy and telecommunication industries.

“As someone who deeply considers the breadth and depth of markets and their efficient functioning, I have no economic prejudice for clean energy sources or uses, or communications or water service solutions,” Williamson said.

The commission has recently been at the center of several contentious issues at the Statehouse, and lawmakers have accused commissioners of bending to the wishes of the governor.

Dion told Williamson during the hearing that many lawmakers are concerned the commission is “not as objective and has not been able to preserve its integrity to the level that it has historically enjoyed.”

Democrats have fiercely criticized the PUC’s vote in March to limit energy efficiency funding due to a typographical error in a law passed in 2013. They also slammed its decision in February to reconsider granting contracts to two wind projects after LePage urged the panel to consider proposals from existing resources, such as nuclear and hydropower, before approving the wind deals.

Williamson would replace David Littell, who was appointed by former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. All three commissioners would then be LePage’s appointees.

The committee has until June 8 to vote on Williamson’s nomination. The full Senate would then consider his nomination. The Senate is controlled by Republicans.


Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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