Government

Controversial PUC Nominee Lacks Energy Experience

Former state senator John C. Revens Jr. appears headed for confirmation as a member of the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC). But his nomination isn’t going forward without a fight.

The George Wiley Center, the Pawtucket-based utility advocacy group, is making an eleventh-hour plea, urging the public to ask their senators to vote “no” on Revens’ nomination to the $139,000-per-year job.

Revens hasn’t supported the percentage of income payment plan (PIPP), a proposal promoted by The George Wiley Center that limits utility bills to 2-4 percent of income for low-income people.

“Either he is not inspired to put the time in order to be prepared for this position or he is obscuring his understanding to shirk accountability,” according to a March 8 George Wiley Center email sent to supporters.

Revens’ nomination was advanced, 9-4, by the Senate Commerce Committee on March 4. There was no discussion.

The vote was postponed at a Feb. 12 hearing, after then-Lt. Gov. Dan McKee submitted a letter saying he wanted to review Gov. Gina Raimondo’s nominee to be sure Revens put the interest of ratepayers ahead of National Grid’s shareholders.

It’s not clear if McKee ever vetted Revens now that Raimondo is U.S. commerce secretary. McKee didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In a Feb. 12 report by WPRI.com, John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, characterized Raimondo’s last-minute appointment as, “Given how long it took her to fill vacancies before she became a lame duck this can be interpreted as nothing other than rewarding political patrons on her way out the door.”

In submitted testimony, the advocacy group the Poor People’s Campaign and members of the public denounced Revens for not opposing new fossil-fuel infrastructure projects. Several letters described his nomination as an act of political favoritism because of Revens’ long tenure in the General Assembly and lack of experience with energy matters.

Revens won his first campaign for state representative in 1968. At age 21, he was the youngest legislator in the country at the time. He served three terms in the House representing Warwick before serving in the Senate from 1975-1988. He was the Senate majority leader from 1983-88. After a losing campaign for state treasurer, Revens served a second stint as state senator from 1991 until 2008.

Revens noted at the Feb. 12 Senate committee hearing that in the ’80s he was the Senate sponsor of the largest environmental bond referendum at the time. “I think I’ve generally supported environmental initiatives in Rhode Island,” he said.

When asked about the three utility rate hikes granted to National Grid during the coronavirus pandemic, Revens replied, “the number one thing is the consumer. You have to also recognize the government can’t put the companies that transmit gas and electric power out of business. So they have to balance the rate request against the cost of the companies being in business.”

Revens has been a private-practice attorney for the past 20 years. He previously owned a liquor store and was a real-estate developer.

Senators Cynthia Mendes, D-East Providence, Tiara Mack, D-Providence, Kendra Anderson, D-Warwick, and Meghan Kallman, D-Pawtucket, voted against Revens at the March 4 committee hearing.

They noted his lack of experience in the energy and utility fields, unlike Raimondo’s three previous appointments to the three-member PUC. Marion Gold, who is leaving the position after a single six-year term, previously ran the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources. PUC chair Ronald Gerwatowski worked in the utility and energy industry for more than 30 years. Commissioner Abigail Anthony was the Rhode Island director for the energy advocacy group Acadia Center and served on the Rhode Island Energy Efficiency and Resource Management Council.

Anderson who represents Revens’ former Senate district in Warwick told ecoRI News that she appreciates his experience at the Statehouse, “but he’s just not right for this position.”

She spoke with Revens before both committee hearing and was dismayed that he didn’t have an appreciation of key issues such as the PIPP and the natural-gas outage on Aquidneck Island in 2019.

“The next six years are pivotal, they are really important,” Anderson said. “And I feel we need someone who can hit the ground running and knows the landscape.”

Revens’ nomination is scheduled to go before the full Senate for final confirmation March 9 at 4 p.m.

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