Public Service Commissions, or small groups of appointed officials tasked with regulating states’ utility companies, rarely cross people’s minds. In recent years, though, environmental leaders have begun paying closer attention to the little-known regulatory bodies. That’s because they regulate both electricity and gas companies — both of which are crucial actors in any plans to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.
That’s why, when Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced his nominee for a new Public Service Commissioner, environmental groups quickly expressed concern. The nominee, Juan Alvarado, had spent more than a decade in various staff roles at the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC). Currently, though, he serves as the senior director of energy analysis for the American Gas Association.
On Feb. 28, one day after The Washington Post published a story headlined “Maryland governor taps gas industry official to help regulate gas industry,” Moore’s office announced that Alvarado had withdrawn himself from consideration.
“I think everybody was surprised by the nomination,” said Doug Siglin, an organizer with the Chesapeake Climate Action Network who has worked on successful campaigns in Montgomery County and D.C. aimed at phasing out gas infrastructure in new buildings.
“Clearly, given Maryland’s very aggressive climate goals, [such as] carbon neutrality by 2045, it just didn’t make sense to have someone who was an employee at the American Gas Association in that key position at the Public Service Commission,” Siglin said.
It’s unclear who the governor might nominate instead, or when that announcement might come out.
The District’s PSC has also come under scrutiny from local climate groups, such as Extinction Rebellion D.C. and the D.C. chapter of the Sierra Club. The commission has so far greenlit the first two phases of Washington Gas’ 40-year, multi-billion dollar pipe replacement initiative, which climate advocates say only cements infrastructure that will make it impossible for the city to meet its stated climate goal of net-zero emissions by 2045.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) most recent pick for the District’s PSC, Ted Trabue, joined the commission in December. He received support from the D.C. Sierra Club, which pointed out the “deep background in energy efficiency and building decarbonization” Trabue gained as head of the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility.
When asked about Moore’s nomination of Alvarado, Trabue described it as an “unforced error.” He cites helping D.C. meet its climate goals as one of his top priorities as a commissioner.
“The first thing Mayor Bowser said when I sat down in her office was ‘what are the environmental groups going to say?’” said Trabue. “You do need their support. That wasn’t always the case, but it is now.”