MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - An inter-office controversy is brewing at the state Public Service Commission.
Earlier this month Commissioner Terry Dunn suggested the group conduct a formal, judicial review of the state's public utility rates--formulas that haven't been updated in 30 years and can dictate what residents pay for electricity and gas.
When the other two members didn't vote for the motion, Dunn says he immediately started receiving backlash from people questioning his motives.
David Rountree is Commissioner Terry Dunn's Chief of Staff.
He spoke on behalf of the office saying Commissioner Dunn suggested a formal review of the state's utility rates for one reason.
"It's our job."
Ever since the motion for a formal review was denied by PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh and fellow Commissioner Jeremy Oden, Rountree says he and Commissioner Dunn have been the target of a smear campaign.
"When you're trying to answer an argument or allegation that's absurd on its face you don't know where to start," says Rountree.
Rountree says accusations have been made about him and Dunn being left-wing, environmental extremists who called for the formal review only to allow environmental groups an opportunity to more strongly regulate the state's utility companies--most notably the coal industry.
"That is not coming from this office," says President Twinkle Cavanaugh.
While she denies being involved in a smear campaign, Cavanaugh released a statement one week after the request for the formal review was denied.
In it she claimed environmental extremists are trying to regulate coal-based energy production--a large Alabama industry that provides thousands of jobs.
Rountree says Commissioner Dunn did talk to one environmental group, but says it doesn't mean he gave it a foothold.
"Commissioner Dunn is fighting that more than any other commissioner in the south."
Cavanaugh says she didn't support a motion for a formal review because the commission previously voted to hold open public hearings and she wants to complete them.
"We will be looking at all aspects of the companies we regulate," says Cavanaugh.
She says she doesn't want to see division in the public service commission, but will consider a formal review only if the public hearings are unsuccessful.
"If anything is out of line we will correct it," says Cavanaugh.
Rountree says he and Commissioner Dunn will continue presenting the motion until the formal review of utility rates is done.
In the meantime, Rountree is working to satisfy a subpoena from a local job advocacy group for phone and email records proving whether he contacted environmental groups.
Rountree says they won't find anything suspicious.
President Cavanaugh says she was not involved in the subpoena and is looking out for Alabama residents.
The public hearings start January 30th at 10:30am in the Public Service Commission chambers. The chambers are located in the RSA Union building on South Union Street.
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