PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Senate on Tuesday morning confirmed Gov. Paul LePage’s nomination of economist Bruce Williamson to the state commission regulating water, electric, natural gas and telephone utilities.
The Senate approved the nomination in a 25-10 vote, sending Williamson to a six-year term on the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which consists entirely of LePage appointees.
Williamson’s nomination was delayed for a week in the energy committee, where Democrats tabled a vote citing a “crisis of confidence” driven by concerns about the extent of the LePage administration’s involvement in matters before the commission.
LePage called Democrats “repugnant” and “disgraceful” for postponing a vote on the nomination of Williamson, who is a senior economist at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. Williamson said it’s a point in his favor that he is an outsider to Maine politics and business.
Williamson will join Chairman Mark Vannoy, an engineer by trade whose term expires in 2019, and former LePage legal adviser Carlisle McLean, who will finish the term of past Chairman Tom Welch, who retired at the end of 2014, before the completion of his term. McLean’s term expires in March 2017. Williamson’s term will expire in 2021.
LePage praised the professional background of the new commission in a statement Tuesday.
“The state’s ratepayers will benefit from the wide range of perspectives and experience this commission has, and I am eager for these talented professionals to begin their work on the state’s complex energy issues and challenges,” LePage said in a prepared statement.
The PUC under Welch ground to a halt in a case dealing with a contract between Fryeburg Water and Poland Springs parent company Nestle Waters North America because every commissioner had conflicts of interest from their previous legal or engineering careers and recused themselves from the case.
Williamson said after his nomination that coming from outside the state he does not have “any axe to grind or any agenda or bias for Maine. I am just fascinated with economics and utilities, and I’m really excited about it.”