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Consumers' watchdog in Ohio is disgraced, why waste our money?
The man Ohioans have paid $130,000 a year to protect their consumer interests in utility matters resigned this week. Don't bother with a going-away present.

Robert Tongren, Ohio Consumers' Counsel, since 1994, quit amid a public uproar after it was revealed that he'd ordered the shredding of a $579,000 taxpayer-funded utility study, never made public, that could have saved FirstEnergy Corp. electricity customers like us billions of dollars.

Instead, Tongren apparently sat on the report while state utility regulators allowed FirstEnergy to charge customers to recoup $8.7 billion for its nuclear power plant construction costs in exchange for freezing electricity rates as Ohio moved toward deregulating the power industry. The shredded study said consumers should bear no more than about half that $8.7 billion amount.

Tongren tried to claim that he went along with the $8.7 billion deal because he thought it was the best that could be expected without a costly legal battle. The study was shredded under normal policy for discarding records after a period of time, he cooed.

If that's a consumer watchdog, the only trick he knows is to roll over and play dead when the utilities whistle. The Ohio Consumers' Counsel is supported by money the utilities must kick in to a fund. The utilities then are allowed to pass that cost to their customers. About 4 cents for every $100 on your utility bills goes to pay for the Ohio Consumers' Counsel.

It's up to State Attorney General Jim Petro to name a new consumers' counsel. Whoever he picks had better be a live wire when it comes to protecting the interests of consumers in utility matters before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Then again, this is a good time to re-evaluate whether Ohio even needs a Consumers' Counsel with a $9 million budget, essentially to watch over the PUCO, which also supposedly exists to watch out for consumers in utility matters. How many utility agencies do we need to take our money only to fail us? How long are we going to put up with blind, toothless watchdogs?

Some state legislators are demanding that FirstEnergy consumers be paid a rebate and that a committee probe the dark side of Ohio's utilities deregulation story. That sounds good, especially the rebate

©The Morning Journal 2003
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