By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Lately, the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) is not just another quiet agency toiling along in obscurity. Recently, the PSC has become a hotbed of controversy as editorial boards, blogs and television news reports have portrayed the division among the commissioners as battle for fair rates for Alabama’s consumers. Here at the Alabama Political Reporter we decided to sit down with each of the commissioners and let them tell their story without hype or spin. Our first interview was with Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh who spoke with us for over an hour.
The controversy began at the January meeting of the PSC. At the meeting Commissioner Terry Dunn made a motion calling for formal hearings saying he wanted to specifically review the range return on equity for Alabama Power Company, Alabama Gas Corporation and Mobile Gas Service Corporation.
Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh and Commissioner Jeremy Oden did not offer a second, and Dunn’s motion failed.
This has set off a round of accusations, recrimination and hostility unprecedented for the regulatory agency.
According to Cavanaugh, in December the commission had voted unanimously to hold public hearings looking into all Alabama utilities beginning with Mobile Gas. Mobile Gas was chosen for the first hearing because it contract expires in September.
“A formal hearing is a legal judicial proceeding that is run completely by a legal team of lawyers and a judge,” said Cavanaugh. “A public preceding—which is what we voted on is where everyone can come to the table and everyone can be heard.”
Cavanaugh says there is still an administrative law judge conducting the hearings, “It is very much like what the legislature has when it holds a public hearing, everyone can voice their opinion.”
She likens the difference in public and so-called formal hearings to a divorce, “As long as momma and daddy are talking it may not be perfect because they are getting a divorce but as long as the parents are talking things out the family wins, the children win. As soon as one of the couple says, ‘I tell you what, you talk to my lawyer,’ because you’re angry then the next thing you know the other one has to go hire a lawyer and the two lawyers win, not the family.”
Cavanaugh says she is not ruling out “a legal preceding” but she thinks that the starting point should be public hearings where everyone has input and not just attorneys.
Cavanaugh said that she met with the Attorney General’s consumer advocate division in December and “told them we would be holding these meetings…I said I wanted them prepared and ready to go to advocate on behalf of the consumers.”
PSC does not directly handle the legal aspects of consumer advocacy. That is the purview of the AG’s office.
Recently, Commissioner Dunn has been given a heroic shine because some believe he is advocating for lower rates. But as Cavanaugh points out changing the formula system that is used by the PSC will not automatically translate into consumer savings and could very likely have the opposite effect.
“Before the formula system everything was adversarial,” said Cavanaugh.
In fact before the formula system, every rate question became a costly court battle. So egregious was the process that the State Legislature passed a law sending rate lawsuits directly to the Alabama Supreme Court.
“It [the formula system] is very hard to explain to the public and it’s very easy to demagogue,” said Cavanaugh.
The PSC President then took out a piece of paper and began to diagram how the formula works, using Alabama Power as an example.
She explains that there is a misconception among some that the utilities are guaranteed a return on investment or some other profit scheme.
It is based on return on equity, she says for Alabama Power, “Equity is around 45 percent, their debt is 55 percent,” said Cavanaugh. “They are allowed, not guaranteed, at this point, to earn between 13 and 14.5 percent of their return on equity (ROE). Not the return on company.”
She says when you do the math the company may see around 8 percent ROE, “which is within the southeastern average.”
She also points out that utilities have to be judged on reliability and performance as well as other measures.
Saying that when there are tornadoes, hurricanes and other disasters, Alabama Power is always ready to respond quickly and efficiently to bring customers back on line. “Look, what happen up north with Hurricane Sandy, those people were without power for a long time, that doesn’t happen in our state,” she remarked.
Cavanaugh relates that having stable and reliability power “has play a big part in Alabama’s economic growth allowed us to win ThyssenKrupp, Airbus, Mercedes, Hyundai and all these other companies.”
She continued, “They know at Mercedes if their power goes out that it is a super priority to get it back on.” Cavanaugh says that when there are gas outages or power outages she is notified and monitors every situation. “We are looking at a full picture of a company to regulate them. I want to know when they tell me that they are reliable that I know it for a fact.”
Cavanaugh says she is proud of the work the Commission does but is unhappy with the spectacle that Commissioner Dunn has made. She indicated that Dunn’s motives may be not as pure as have been portrayed by some in the media, but she would prefer to take the high road than engage in the name calling that has become a part of Dunn’s communications with the press.
New unemployment claims continued dropping last week
There were 8,679 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,848 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19, 4,465, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.
Unemployment benefits could change for some Alabamians
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
Some Alabamians receiving unemployment benefits could see changes in those benefits after the Alabama Department of Labor conducts a required quarterly review and redetermines eligibility, the department said Friday.
The Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release Friday that no action is required by those receiving regular unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
“Some may remain eligible for PUA or PEUC, OR they may be required to change to regular unemployment compensation. Weekly benefit amounts may also change. This depends on eligibility requirements,” ADOL said in the release. “Those claimants whose benefit year ends prior to October 3, 2020, will have their claims reevaluated.”
After the review, if the claimant is determined not to be eligible for regular unemployment compensation, those who qualify may still be able to be paid under PUA or PEUC, and that determination will be made automatically and payment will be issued, the department said in the release.
Claimants must also continue to certify their weeks.
Many claimants are not receiving benefits because they fail to file their weekly certifications, i.e. requests for payment. ADOL cannot pay benefits for weeks that have not been properly certified. Certifications can be done online at labor.alabama.gov or by calling the appropriate number:
- Montgomery – (334) 954-4094
- Birmingham – (205) 458-2282
- Not in Local Area – (800) 752-7389
PUA recipients must file their weekly certifications either by telephone or on the PUA app, at pua.labor.alabama.gov.
Alabama Republicans praise President Trump’s SCOTUS nomination
“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said.
President Donald Trump on Saturday nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court, and, if confirmed, Barrett would fill the vacancy created by the death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Trump’s nomination of Barrett was met with near universal praise among Alabama Republicans including Gov. Kay Ivey and a number of other elected officials.
“I commend President Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Judge Barrett will be focused on interpreting the law, being an arbiter and not a lawmaker, as the Supreme Court demands of its justices,” Ivey said. “Based on her proven career and background, I am confident that Judge Barrett will be articulate and a fair supporter of issues important to Alabamians such as protecting the unborn and our Second Amendment rights, while applying the law impartially.”
Barrett has served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit since 2017. Before becoming a judge, she was a law professor at Notre Dame Law School and previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Ivey said Barrett will embody the precedent established by Ginsburg and further prove that a woman can be a wife, a mother, a person of faith and hold strong personal convictions while still effectively performing the duties required of a justice.
“The confirmation process is already proving to be another brutal fight, but I am certain that this is the job for a strong, conservative woman,” Ivey said. “The people of Alabama overwhelmingly supported President Trump in 2016, and I commend him for performing his constitutional duty of nominating to the Supreme Court and getting the job done that we elected him to do. The late Justice Ginsburg herself noted that even in an election year, ‘a president doesn’t stop being president.’”
Before her death, Ginsburg reportedly made a request that her replacement not be nominated or confirmed until a “new president is installed.” Last week, Ginsburg became the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
“I eagerly anticipate Judge Barrett’s confirmation, and I look forward to continuing to forge a strong relationship between President Trump and the state of Alabama during his next term,” said Ivey.
Democratic Senators, though they do not appear to have the votes to stop Barrett’s nomination, are vociferously opposed to confirming a new justice before the Nov. 3 election determines whether Trump will serve as second term.
Democrats point to what they say is the hypocritical position of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who refused to hold hearings or a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016.
All but two Republican senators appear prepared to vote for Barrett’s confirmation, all but assuring her a seat on the court and solidifying a 6-3 conservative majority.
“I am extremely pleased with President Trump’s selection in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama. “From her clerkship for the late Justice Scalia to her tenure on the 7th Circuit, Judge Barrett has had a distinguished career and has proven her commitment to the rule of law. Our next Supreme Court Justice must be a steadfast supporter of upholding our nation’s Constitution. I have no doubt in Judge Barrett’s qualifications, and I look forward to supporting her nomination.”
Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat, has said he will not vote for any nominee until the results of the Nov. 3 election are decided.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan:
“President Trump has nominated a superior candidate for our nation’s highest court. Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a solid constitutional jurist who has distinguished herself both on the bench during her time on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in academia as a law professor at the University Notre Dame and as a clerk for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,” Lathan said. “Judge Barrett’s focus on following the Constitution is apparent in her opinions, in cases ranging from the 2nd Amendment to immigration. Even three Democrat Senators – Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Joe Donnelly crossed party lines in 2017 to support her first nomination to the bench.”
“A mother of seven, including two adopted children from Haiti, Supreme Court nominee Barrett has been called a ‘powerhouse’ constitutionalist,” Lathan continued. “Her consistent rulings on applying laws to the words of our U.S. Constitution is the exact example of what the justices are tasked with in implementing their rulings. Based on qualifications and experience alone, Judge Barrett’s nomination merits a vote by the full United States Senate.”
Congressman Gary Palmer:
“President Trump has made an excellent choice in nominating Judge Barrett to the Supreme Court, and I extend my heartfelt congratulations to her and her family,” Congressman Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, said. “Judge Barrett has a stellar record of faithfully interpreting the law, training young lawyers, producing brilliant scholarship, and upholding the Constitution. Her devotion to her family, and her dedication to her students during her years as a law professor, are also commendable. There is no question that she is highly qualified and will make a fantastic Justice. I urge the Senate to confirm her quickly.”
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville:
“I am so excited about President Trump’s nomination today of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Republican Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville. “She understands that’s it’s her job to interpret the Constitution as it’s written and not to manufacture new law from the bench. Her nomination opens the door to protecting unborn life, preserving our Second Amendment gun rights, and securing the religious freedoms guaranteed to us by the Constitution.”
“My opponent, Democrat Doug Jones has a very different opinion,” Tuberville continued. “He’s already announced his opposition to any candidate offered by President Donald J. Trump, and he said even meeting and listening to Judge Barrett would be useless. When it comes to giving fair consideration to President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Doug Jones is a lost ball in high cotton. But that comes as no surprise. He voted against Brett Kavanaugh and said he would have opposed Neil Gorsuch if he’d been in the Senate at the time. Democrat Doug even voted twice to remove Donald J. Trump from office. Since becoming our placeholder senator, Doug Jones has opposed everything most Alabamians support and supported everything most Alabamians oppose. Instead of representing our conservative Alabama values, he’s represented the Hollywood and New York values of his high-dollar, out-of-state campaign donors.”
“There’s no telling what kind of dishonest tactics Doug Jones, Chuck Schumer, Kamala Harris and the other Senate liberals will use against a woman who is imminently qualified to sit on our nation’s highest court,” Tuberville warned. “So I’ll close by asking you to join me in praying for Judge Barrett and her family as she faces what promises to be a tough and partisan confirmation hearing. With your prayers and support, America will soon have a strongly conservative Supreme Court, and Alabama will have a new senator who actually represents the citizens of this great state. May God bless Judge Barrett. May God bless President Donald Trump. And may God continue to bless the greatest nation mankind has ever known.”
Congressional candidate Barry Moore:
“I applaud the President for making this nomination now, as the Constitution mandates,” said Congressional candidate Barry Moore. “I’m confident that the Senate will also take up Judge Barrett’s nomination in a timely fashion and not delay the process until after the election. The Constitution doesn’t state anything about waiting until after an election to fill Supreme Court vacancies, despite what the Democrats want us to think.”
“I’m pleased that President Trump has chosen a strong pro-life woman for the Supreme Court,” Moore continued. “I’m also impressed by Judge Barrett’s credentials and experience. I am certain she’ll make an exceptional addition to the Supreme Court, and will serve us well for many years to come.”
“We, as a nation, must act now by praying for President Trump, Judge Barrett and their families,” Moore concluded. “They need to have a shield of favor and protection prayed over them. I truly believe we are in a spiritual battle for our nation and the Democrats will stop at nothing to destroy the character of Judge Barrett, as they’ve done for the last 4 years with President Trump.”
Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter
“I join the members of the Alabama House Republican Caucus in praising President Trump’s decision to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville.
“Judge Barrett clerked for one of the court’s greatest conservative jurists, Judge Antonin Scalia, and she understands that her job is to interpret the Constitution as the founding fathers wrote it, not to invent new law out of thin air,” Ledbetter said. “The suit against Alabama’s strongest-in-the-nation pro-life law is currently working its way through the federal courts, and it could be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the near future. Having a conservative majority on the nation’s highest court will be essential to the Alabama Legislature’s efforts to protect unborn life from harm. We encourage the Senate to hold confirmation hearings as soon as possible and to hold an up-or-down vote on Judge Barrett’s nomination immediately after they conclude.”
23rd Alabama inmate dies with COVID-19
There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.
The Alabama Department of Corrections on Friday reported the 23rd COVID-19 death among inmates in the state’s prisons.
Christopher Nalls, a 59-year-old inmate serving a 15-year sentence, died Sept. 10 at a local hospital in Hamilton, Alabama.
Nalls was moved to the local hospital on Aug. 31 to receive treatment for pre-existing health conditions unrelated to COVID-19.
His admission test upon entering the hospital was negative, and after treatment, Nalls was discharged Sept. 4.
Upon return, Nalls’s condition worsened, and he was readmitted Sept. 10. He died later that same day. A postmortem COVID-19 test showed Nalls died with COVID-19.
ADOC did not report any other positive COVID-19 cases among inmates in correctional facilities. But in the same report Friday, ADOC reported six new positive cases among staff, bringing the staff total to 28 active cases.
ADOC’s Office of Health Services initiated investigations into possible prolonged exposures between positive staff members and inmates or employees.
There have been 409 total positive COVID-19 cases among inmates and 392 total among employees as of Sept. 26.