Editorial: We need a seat at the PUC table

Mon, 07/01/2013 - 2:00pm

During the special session that the Town Council scheduled this past week to discuss whether or not to appeal the recent Public Utilities Commission order that approved the annual revenue increase for Interstate Navigation, there was some palpable frustration with the PUC and the process that led us here. That the council decided not to appeal the decision is disappointing, but we can’t say that it was unreasonable. The odds of winning the appeal were certainly slim.

However, we do agree with councilors Chris Warfel and Sean McGarry — the two councilors in favor of launching an appeal — who felt that arguing the flaws of the PUC decision in front of the state Supreme Court would at the very least set the table for the next time such a decision is due. That seemed reasonable to us, and that’s why we wish the town had gone that way.

The Division of Public Utilities and Carriers — the separate entity within the PUC that first approved the Interstate revenue-increase package — may be the group that represents the people of Rhode Island, but it did not, in our view, represent the Rhode Islanders who live on Block Island. At least not in this decision.

Now, again, we’re not saying that Interstate, as a state-regulated company, doesn’t have the right to earn more money. We live in a capitalistic society. That’s what companies do. But this PUC decision hit people’s pocketbooks and there were obvious and reasonable alternatives for Interstate to make their increase without imposing a 34-percent freight rate increase on the goods that must be transported to the island by boat. This decision is also a significant barrier in any effort to make Block Island a year-round economy.

The PUC now has a new chairperson, Meg Curran, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said that she will serve the people of this state with integrity. We hope she will be sensitive to the needs of the people of Block Island and our economy.

We need, as our town councilors and others have said, a seat at the PUC table so that we can participate in these important discussions, and not be frustrated by-standers in the decisions that affects us all.