Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission
By law, the commission cannot issue a decision that changes customer rates or services until it has the legal evidence to back it up. Therefore, much of the commission's business revolves around public legal proceedings.
The commission has three basic decision-making procedures:
Most formal rate cases come before the commission because a utility or transportation company wants to change the rates (tariffs) it charges or the services it offers. For many years, this has been the most common kind of proceeding at the commission, although rulemaking and mediation are becoming more common. During the open meeting, if the commissioners decide that further investigation is warranted on a company's request, it will suspend the companies' request, and the matter will be set for hearing.
Here's what happens, step-by-step:
A rulemaking case begins when the commission decides to investigate a new problem or development affecting an industry, and issues a Notice of Inquiry. For example, the commission might want to examine the effects of competition on the state's telephone companies. Deregulation and rapidly changing technology have given the commissioners new and more general industry issues to sort out. This is not a formal legal proceeding, but more like the legislative fact-finding process, in which the commissioners invite the companies and interested parties to submit written comments. Workshops or open meetings may follow, and the commissioners may or may not decide to issue a rulemaking order. If so, the new rules are published in the Washington Administrative Code.
To save time and expense, regulated companies can choose to avoid complex litigation and use what is called mutual gains negotiation In this process, the company, commission staff, interveners and public counsel attempt to settle all -- or at least some -- of the issues in the rate case before formal hearings take place. Administrative law judges for the commission preside over mutual gains negotiations, and they are always subject to the commission's approval. In addition, the same process may be used to settle disputes between the commission staff and companies, between companies, or between other parties to a case.
The commission is considered to be a quasi-legislative body because of its rulemaking powers. This means that aside from its judicial role of deciding fairly on specific cases brought before it, it also may take the initiative and establish general rules affecting many companies. For example, the commission may hold hearings and gather evidence on the need for better energy savings programs for industrial gas and electric customers. Or the commission may establish an incentive program that rewards efficiently run companies.
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