It's official. State Public Service Commissioner Sandra Hochstetter resigned today in a brief letter to Gov. Mike Beebe.
We'd been told that Beebe had called her today and said she should resign. Matt DeCample, spokesman for the governor, said the governor's response to the question of whether he'd specifically sought the resignation was, "The important thing is that she stepped down."
When we reported the rumor of her departure earlier, DeCample couldn't confirm it, but said the governor did believe Hochstetter should step down.
Good for Beebe for acting, if belatedly. He was informed Monday by PSC Chairman Paul Suskie that Hochstetter planned to leave the PSC soon for a job as a utility lawyer at AECC. She announced that Tuesday, but didn't step down from a controversial coal-generating power plant case immediately, even though the SWEPCO plant, if built, is expected to have her future employer as an investor. She also planned to stay on for an unspecified time to consider other utility matters, including a case concerning her coming competitor, Entergy. She recused from the SWEPCO case after parties requested it.
Apparently I was not alone after all in thinking that the appearances were not good, beginning with Hochstetter participating in proceedings on the pending SWEPCO power plant case when she knew her future employer hoped to have a stake in the plant.
Her resignation may not end controversy about her step through the revolving door, a familiar pattern in regulated industry in Arkansas, Though law prohibits her from doing work at the PSC for a year after leaving, she'll certainly be able to provide guidance to AECC co-workers who work with her former colleagues at the PSC where she was staff director and then commissioner for nearly eight years.
It's still important to know when she began talking with AECC. If opponents of the coal plant in Hempstead County lose their bid to block the big polluter, one of them told me today that Hochstetter's role in earlier decisions in the case, including the necessity for the plant, would likely become an issue in appeals.
It may only be coincidental, but the departure of Hochstetter, a former lawyer for CenterPoint Energy, the gas company, comes the same day as the filing of a major issue at the PSC. The law firm of Patton Roberts McWilliams and Capshaw of Texarkana is asking the PSC to let a Miller County circuit court hear a class action complaint over an alleged gas overcharging scheme that took millions from customers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. The Supreme Court had ruled that the PSC should be given a chance to review the complicated issue before the circuit court heard it. The plaintiffs argue that the PSC can only grant limited rebates to Arkansas customers and that would be an insufficient repayment of unjust profits reaped throughout the gas system.
UPDATE II: Hey politicians and media. Where were all these questions and concerns yesterday? Besides on the Arkansas Blog? Will the D-G give her another fanny kiss today?