What You Should Know And How You Can Participate
Each year, hundreds of applications are filed with the Public Service Commission. Many of those applications require that a public hearing be scheduled and announced so that everyone interested may attend.
PSC hearings are similar to courtroom proceedings. They are formal public sessions in which witnesses speak and testimony is taken to gather facts on which a decision will be made. Hearings give each side the opportunity to make its best case before the Commission.
Hearings are held on a number of issues. Jurisdiction to consider those issues is given to the PSC by the Legislature. For example, utility rates, rules, service offerings and territories, construction sitings, bond issues, and formal customer complaints are some of the things the Commission may review and decide. The length of a hearing can vary from a few hours to a period of several weeks for a major rate case.
PSC Building. The date and place for hearings are set by a Commission Order. Most hearings are held in the Public Service Commission building. It is located at Tenth and Center Streets in Little Rock.
Local Hearings. Efforts are made to hold hearings in the areas affected by a case when the public shows strong interest and staff time and resources permit.
Calendar and Information
A calendar of scheduled hearings is kept in the office of the Secretary of the Commission. All Commission orders are issued through that office, so copies of decisions as well as information on hearing dates and filing deadlines are available there.
The Secretary’s Office is also responsible for furnishing copies of the Rules of Practice and Procedure. Those Rules explain in detail the procedures and requirements for participating in all types of cases.
Commissioners. Each hearing is presided over by the Commissioners or Administrative Law Judge who will conduct the hearing and decide the outcome.
In Arkansas, there are three Commissioners who are appointed by the Governor for 6-year terms. They must also be confirmed by the Senate. At least one of the Commissioners must be a lawyer.
During a hearing, the Commissioners conduct the proceeding much like a judge does in a courtroom. They are responsible for giving the company, the PSC General Staff, and any intervenors the opportunity to introduce evidence concerning the issues involved. The Commissioners may question witnesses themselves to develop any information they think necessary to make a full record.
PSC General Staff. The General Staff functions independently of the Commissioners. It is the responsibility of the General Staff to make an independent analysis of each application and present its recommendations to the Commission.
The General Staff consists of experts in accounting, engineering, economics, finance, law and related utility fields.
Utility Representatives. The utility involved in the case will send company representatives to the hearing to testify, question witnesses, and answer questions or explain the company’s position.
Intervenors. Official parties to a case other than the Commission, the General Staff, and the utility are referred to as intervenors. The Attorney General’s Office has the right to participate in any case on behalf of the ratepayers. In order to become an official party to a case, all others must demonstrate to the Commission that their interests are not adequately represented by one of those groups before permission to intervene is granted.
Intervenor status allows a party to present exhibits and expert testimony and to cross-examine witnesses. Experience has shown that those powers are best utilized through an attorney.
Limited Appearances. You may participate by making a limited appearance. That means you are allowed to file a verified statement of your position with the Commission before the date of the hearing. You must appear at the public hearing and be available for cross-examination. However, limited appearance status does not include the right to present additional evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
Public Comments. Concerned citizens may appear at a public hearing and express their views at that time. Such public comments become part of the record and are taken into consideration by the Commission.
The hearing begins with opening statements by the parties. Public comment is usually heard at the beginning of a proceeding, after the parties to the case have been introduced and have made their opening statements.
The next step is taken by the “moving party.” In complaint cases, the moving party is the person who filed the complaint. In a rate case, the moving party is the utility that filed the rate application.
That step involves presenting evidence, putting witnesses on the stand, and asking questions which allow each witness to develop his part of the case. Other parties may cross-examine those witnesses. After the moving party has made its case, the other party or parties present their case, and are themselves subject to cross-examination.
After all the parties have presented their evidence, they each make closing statements in a final effort to make their case. After closing statements, the Commission adjourns the hearing.
Decisions are not usually made or announced during hearings. The Commission must apply the law to the facts in making its decision and so must review and study all information filed or presented regarding each case. The review process takes place during the weeks following each hearing.
Once a decision is made, it is published in the form of an Order. Copies are sent to all parties, and are also available through the office of the Secretary of the Commission. A final order is a legal document which must be obeyed by all parties unless it is subsequently overturned on appeal. To be valid, an Order must be signed by the ALJ or the Commissioners.
Any party disagreeing with a final Commission decision may petition for rehearing within 30 days of the Order. Within 30 days, the Commission may deny this petition, grant a rehearing or amend its Order. Then, if the party still disagrees with the Commission’s ruling, it can appeal to the Arkansas Court of Appeals, then to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court.
If you have questions about a regulated utility or a problem you are unable to resolve, contact our Consumer Services Office. You can come to see us in person, write to us, or call us on our local or toll-free numbers.
Phone Numbers: 501-682-1718
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 400
Little Rock, AR 72203-0400
Street Address: 1000 Center Street
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Arkansas Public Service Commission
Consumer Services Division