Easier public access to PUC long overdue
The Public Utilities Commission — whose decisions affect transportation, utilities and other costs the consumer bears — is on the verge of becoming more public.
The PUC regulates and sets fees for public-service entities such as the utilities and companies in the telecommunications, transportation and trucking industries. It greatly affects the general population, but it operates quietly.
Far too quietly, according to Life of the Land, which has filed a complaint with the Office of Information Practices about how the commission tells the public what it's doing.
The environmental group has a good point: Clearly the commission could have done more for years to communicate with the public it serves.
The group is an intervener in a case involving Hawaiian Electric Co. and its plans to generate power from biofuels; it has concerns about the environmental impact of using palm oil for that purpose.
The complaint, however, is that it was more by luck than design that Life of the Land was able to exercise its right to intervene: There was no publication of the PUC application until after the intervention deadline passed. Many applications are filed without published notification,
The group and PUC officials disagree over whether the legal burden was met in this case. Regardless, in an era when mass notification can be accomplished easily through e-mail lists, it should have been doing a better job. As it is, the only way many citizens or citizen groups can keep up to date is by visiting the office and looking at the file.
Thankfully, all this is about to change, through an upgrade to the PUC Web site, now being tested by office staff, which will place all public documents online and will enable subscription to notifications. It's been in development for three years under contract with The Dayhuff Group, which also set up the Ohio Public Utilities Commission site (www.puco.ohio.gov).
Just compare that site with the PUC's currently pale Web presence (www.puc.hawaii.
gov) to see how much this change is needed.
The commission is aiming for a fall public launch of the site, which cost about $1 million to build. Considering the importance of what the PUC does, it's a worthwhile investment that's long overdue.