Under New York State Law, the Public Service Commission must consider a utility's proposal and may adopt, reject or amend any part, or all, of it. The Office of General Counsel assists in the review of specific rate and service proposals by the utilities. Most proposals for competitive price or service offerings are limited to individual customers or service classifications, but more extensive proposals have also been presented.
A Department of Public Service Administrative Law Judge is assigned to preside over the gathering of public comment and all evidence relating to the proposal. The Administrative Law Judges preside over trial-type hearings or mediate disputes informally. The judge exercises the same authority as a Commissioner in deciding disputes about procedures and the admissibility of evidence. In all types of proceedings, the judge ultimately is responsible for seeking out the most efficient way to conduct the case and then holding the parties to the established schedule. This process ensures that cases are handled at each stage by a judge who is thoroughly familiar with the record.
The judges are trained continually in substantive technical and legal issues, to maintain their expertise as the regulated utilities evolve into a competitive industry. In addition, to maximize the potential efficiencies of completing cases through means other than litigation, the office requires all its judges to be trained in alternative dispute resolution methods so they can help parties negotiate settlements of individual issues or entire proceedings.
The Commission may hold public statement hearings on a proposal to ensure that public comments and concerns become a part of the official case record, along with all other evidence, that it considers in analyzing the proposal. The purpose of the public statement hearings is to provide an opportunity for the general public to comment on the proposal.
Active public involvement can provide the Commission with a more comprehensive record reflecting a broad spectrum of views from all interested parties.
Evidentiary hearings may be scheduled to allow an opportunity for the parties in the case to cross-examine witnesses, including the company, on the merits of the proposal, including the company. The public may attend these open sessions to observe the questioning of the witnesses.
After all the evidence and public comment have been gathered, the judge will present the record of information, including his recommendations, to the Commission.
The Commission will formally consider the case at a regularly scheduled public meeting in either Albany or New York City. The meetings are designed to allow the Commission members to discuss a large number of utility-related matters pending before it. The public is invited to listen to these sessions.
After the Commission decides the issues, the judge is responsible for drafting a legally sustainable opinion and order that clearly explains the Commission's conclusions. The Commission will make its decision based on the record and issue a written order.
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