Environmental group wants PUCO to reconsider cases after chair resigned

Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

An environmental group is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to throw out and re-do proceedings that involve Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. during the nearly two years that Sam Randazzo led the PUCO.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center filed a motion Tuesday with the PUCO, just five days after Randazzo resigned as PUCO chairman.

Last week, FBI agents executed a search warrant at a Columbus condo owned by Randazzo and hauled away boxes of material.

Days later, FirstEnergy disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it fired three top executives on Oct. 29 in part over a $4 million payment made to end a consulting contract in early 2019 with someone who was subsequently appointed as an Ohio regulator over utilities. FirstEnergy did not name the regulator in the disclosure.

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The Environmental Law & Policy Center argues that “The circumstantial evidence connecting Chair Randazzo to the FirstEnergy Corp’s $4 million payment creates, at the very least, the appearance of impropriety.”

The five-member PUCO, appointed by the governor, regulates telecommunications, natural gas and electricity utilities in Ohio.

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A PUCO spokesman could not be reached for comment.

“There’s a reasonable perception that a $4 million payout would raise doubts about Chairman Randazzo’s impartiality in cases before the commission involving FirstEnergy,” said Rob Kelter, senior attorney at ELPC. “The public has a right to fair decisions regarding monopoly rates and services. That fairness requires a commission’s decision process without any undue influence from the utilities it regulates.”

The motion applies to the three cases in which the Environmental Law & Policy Center was a party but could be broadly applied to all FirstEnergy cases that Randazzo participated in, Kelter said.

Likewise, Kelter said the PUCO should compel FirstEnergy to produce the consulting contract related to the $4 million payment and the corporation’s internal review findings.

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