Gov. Dannel P. Malloy angrily rebuffed a request by state utility regulators for greater independence, inviting them Monday to resign if they cannot live within the unique structure his administration created in a merged Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
“I’m not in agreement with it. I’ve been in government for a long time. I’m used to people wanting to have their own empire. I don’t believe that that’s what’s necessary,” Malloy said. Then he sharply added, “And if any of the commissioners find that objectionable, they can always act on it.”
Malloy, who spoke at a general press conference after a Bond Commission meeting, was asked if that meant they could resign.
“They could resign,” Malloy said.
Arthur House, the chairman of the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which made the request for independence in an unusual year-end memo, declined to comment. The memo, which was dated Dec. 29, was the subject of stories Monday in The Mirror and The Courant.
The PURA memo revisited a concern about regulatory independence raised in 2011, when Malloy folded the regulators into a Department of Environmental Protection that was expanded to give the administration a stronger capacity to shape energy policy.
“At its core,” the memo states, “having PURA adjudicate energy and utility issues with considerable financial consequences when its parent authority is a statutory party to every proceeding before it, presents an insurmountable conflict of interest.”
The memo was signed by the authority’s three commissioners: House, Jack Betkoski and Michael Caron. House and Betkoski are Democrats. Caron is a Republican. Malloy appointed House and Caron and reappointed Betkoski, a former lawmaker who has been a utility regulator since 1997.
House came to the job in 2012 after a long string of senior posts in government and business, including being a top aide to former U.S. Sen. Abraham Ribicoff and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd.
The commissioners noted that no other state has a similar regulatory structure.
Malloy responded with a personal jab, accusing them of empire building. He did not retreat when he was challenged and asked about the broader argument: Is there awkwardness with the regulators relying on DEEP, a party to many of the cases before it, for budget and staff?
“I think anyone could have made that argument in any consolidation that we’ve effected in the past. And we’re not going to go about recreating a Connecticut, the likes of which I inherited,” Malloy said.
“So the opposite of that would be to simply allow them to hire whoever they want to hire, whenever they want to hire,” Malloy said. “And the answer is no.”