Albany, NY – If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz is continuing his nearly decade-long effort to create an independent office of the Utility Consumer Advocate in New York State and has successfully passed legislation (A3184) to do so for the sixth time in the Assembly since 2013. The independent Utility Consumer Advocate, which exists in some form or another in more than 40 other states and the District of Columbia, has saved ratepayers billions of dollars over the years in avoided rate increases and other savings.
Similar legislation was most recently passed in 2019, but it was vetoed by Governor Cuomo on the alleged basis that the Department of Public Service already functions in this capacity. The Governor also created a new position, Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection, in 2020 within the Department of Public Service. However, the Department of Public Service is an executive agency and the Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection is solely appointed by the Governor and does not have any protections that ensure independence from Executive influence.
The legislation passed by Assemblyman Dinowitz and State Senator Diane Savino would create an independent position that functions in a similar manner to the Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection. This Utility Consumer Advocate would be appointed by the Governor to a six-year term which must be confirmed by the State Senate. The Utility Consumer Advocate would also be insulated against influence. The legislation also explicitly states that the “exercise of independent judgment in advocating positions on behalf of residential utility consumers shall not constitute cause for removal of the utility consumer advocate,” which is a protection that does not currently exist for the Special Counsel for Ratepayer Protection.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D - Bronx) said: “There is no question that the playing field is incredibly unbalanced towards corporate utility companies when it comes to the provision of essential public utilities. These multibillion-dollar corporations are able to access high-powered and expensive resources to advocate on their own behalf, but there is not a countervailing influence that acts on behalf of regular, working people. I understand that Governor Cuomo has thought this legislation to be redundant in years past, but I am hopeful that he has thought hard about the issue and has reconsidered his position. I thank my colleagues for their continued support, as well as the diligent advocacy from AARP NY and other pro-consumer organizations, and I urge Governor Cuomo to finally give New Yorkers the voice we deserve in the regulatory processes of public utilities.”
“New Yorkers pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation, and they need an independent voice to fight for them when utilities ask for even more,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “The Utility Consumer Advocate created by this legislation will give customers an ally when utilities request new rate hikes and changes that affect the cost and reliability of service. We thank Senator Savino and Assemblymember Dinowitz for leading the charge, and we urge Governor Cuomo to sign the Utility Consumer Advocate into law.”