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Who decides where our electricity comes from and how much we pay for it?
In most states, it’s a small group of unelected officials who don’t look like the people they represent.

In every state, a public utility commission oversees investor-owned power utilities — and has one of the biggest roles to play as many of those utilities transition from fossil fuels to renewable electricity.

But these PUCs usually operate below the radar, bypassing public oversight that’s usually directed at other public officeholders. And in 41 states, these officials are appointed by governors rather than elected.

A pair of new studies sheds light on these often-unscrutinized officials. 

The first, from Jared Heern, a postdoctoral research associate at the Institute at Brown University for Environment and Society, examines more than 800 current and former regulators’ work experience. Many were former elected officials or were otherwise close with the governor who appointed them. Meanwhile, a quarter of commissioners came from the utility and fossil fuel industries, while just 19% had environmental experience.

The number of utility commissioners with environmental experience is rising, though — a positive step seeing as “PUCs are so central to the rapid action that’s needed in decarbonization,” Heern told the Energy News Network.

Another study, from environmental justice nonprofit the Chisholm Legacy Project, pinpoints a lack of diversity within utility boards. Of the commissioners serving as of last August, 65% were men, and 82% were White. Four states — Idaho, Maine, Mississippi and Utah — had all White male commissioners.

“That’s not an accident — that’s a whole overlay of segregation, voter suppression, and other factors,” said Charles Hua, a co-author of the study, noting that those four states also have some of the highest energy burdens in the country.

The regulators have the capacity to do something about it, but they have allowed the utilities to run with their proposals that exacerbate these problems,” Hua added.

Read more about the studies’ findings, and what they mean for utility accountability and decarbonization, at the Energy News Network.

More clean energy news

🌡️ It’s never been hotter: July 4 saw the highest average temperature on Earth since records began in 1979, and some scientists believe it was the hottest day in at least 125,000 years. (Washington Post)

🏛️ Lobbyists’ two-faced mission: More than 1,500 lobbyists are working for fossil fuel companies while also representing cities, tech giants, universities and environmental groups that say they’re fighting for climate action. (Guardian)

👩‍🏭 EV benefits aren’t benefitting autoworkers: Top automaker union United Auto Workers says federal electric vehicle manufacturing incentives are going to companies but not trickling down to employees, and it wants to see better benefits for workers before endorsing President Biden’s reelection. (The Hill)

🏫 What affirmative action means for climate: The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn affirmative action in college admissions could encourage more lawsuits against the Biden administration’s environmental justice efforts, legal scholars say. (Inside Climate News)

🏭 Utilities aren’t biting on carbon capture: Few utilities are taking advantage of federal incentives to install carbon capture equipment, even as an EPA rule would require the shutdown of fossil fuel plants if they don’t use the technology. (E&E News)

🏙️ A new building decarbonization mandate: Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the first city in the country to make existing non-residential buildings cut their greenhouse gas emissions, requiring buildings larger than 100,000 square feet to achieve net-zero by 2035. (Utility Dive)

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Kathryn brings her extensive editorial background to the Energy News Network team, where she oversees the early-morning production of ENN’s five email digest newsletters as well as distribution of ENN’s original journalism with other media outlets. From documenting chronic illness’ effect on college students to following the inner workings of Congress, Kathryn has built a broad experience in her more than five years working at major publications including The Week Magazine. Kathryn holds a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism and information management and technology from Syracuse University.