A runoff election for the Louisiana Public Service Commission is pitting an incumbent financially backed by the utility that he regulates against a challenger who has called on limiting utilities’ influence, with major implications for clean energy development.
Louisiana utility regulator Lambert Boissiere III is facing a challenge from Davante Lewis, who has highlighted Boissiere’s reliance on campaign contributions from utilities like Entergy, which the Commission regulates.
Boissiere has received almost three-fourths of his campaign contributions from people and entities closely related to the industries regulated by the PSC, including Entergy itself, according to a review of campaign filings from the Energy and Policy Institute. Entergy and Entergy employees were the single largest donors to Boissiere from July 22 through the November 8 general election.
Boissiere, who took office in 2005, is seeking a final term on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, a five-person elected panel that regulates power, telecommunications, and water companies in the state. Boissiere represents District 3, the only majority-minority district that stretches across 10 parishes, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.
Race has major climate implications
The impacts of the election outcome on electricity policy could stretch across the country and into southern Canada. The Louisiana Public Service Commission (PSC) and Entergy have been instrumental in blocking transmission planning and development at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, the regional grid operator in which Louisiana is a member. MISO is responsible for planning transmission development in a broad swath of the country stretching from Louisiana through the Upper Midwest. MISO recently approved $10.3 billion in new transmission projects in its northern states, which it says will lower costs for customers while facilitating the retirement of coal and the addition of new clean power. MISO does not expect to undertake a similar long-range transmission planning process for the South until 2024.
Currently, three Commissioners, including Boissiere, have regulated in ways that have favored expanded dependence on fossil fuels, while two Commissioners have ruled in ways that have shown more openness to clean energy development.
Boissiere has served on the Commission since 2005, and is currently its chair. Louisiana ranks 50th out of 50 for producing electricity from wind, solar, and energy storage power plants in the United States, according to American Clean Power.
Boissiere under fire for accepting money from Entergy executives
Before filing for re-election, Boissiere had $166,836.42 on-hand, bolstered by the help of donors like Entergy and AT&T, regulated entities long known for spending millions to shore up political support for items that come before the Commission.
Four challengers filed to unseat Boissiere, who has been repeatedly criticized by his opponents for accepting campaign contributions from the companies he is supposed to regulate.
Boissiere and Lewis are both Democrats; Louisiana requires run-off elections between the top two candidates if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote in a general election. Boissiere received 43 percent of the vote; Lewis received 18 percent; a third candidate finished with 17 percent. The runoff election is scheduled for December 10.
The challengers, including Lewis, campaigned on the platform that the Public Service Commission should ban contributions from regulated utility companies, following the lead of the New Orleans City Council, which did so earlier this year. (The New Orleans City Council directly regulates Entergy’s New Orleans subsidiary; the PSC regulates the company in the rest of the state, as well as all other Louisiana investor-owned utilities.)
Boissiere defended accepting utility money: “There’s no other way to finance a campaign […] what happens if you get beat every time because you couldn’t raise any money? The fact is, you can self regulate, but you can’t regulate your opponents.”
None of Boissiere’s opponents accepted campaign contributions from Entergy or other regulated entities, according to a campaign finance review by EPI. Gregory Manning, one of Boissiere’s challengers, said that he believed it is “morally wrong” for a Commissioner to be financially dependent on donations from the entities they were elected to regulate. Lewis has pledged to create a rule barring campaign contributions from regulated entities, if elected.
Lewis also campaigned on a “ratepayer’s bill of rights” that would ban utility shutoffs during high energy usage months, limit late fees, cap profits for investor-owned utilities, break Entergy’s monopoly on power generation, and limit the influence of regulated companies like Entergy.
Combined, Boissiere’s opponents raised just $123,202 from July 22 to November 8.
Boissiere’s challengers weren’t the only ones to slam him for accepting utility money. Keep the Lights On, a super PAC backed by the Environmental Defense Fund, spent a half a million dollars on a 30-second ad, framing Boissiere as an Entergy puppet for taking “piles of campaign contributions from the same industries he’s supposed to regulate”.
Entergy and other regulated entities are the top donors for Boissiere’s re-election campaign.
Boissiere received more than 70% of his campaign cash from people and entities closely related to the industries regulated by the PSC. That includes regulated companies and their employees, as well as the attorneys, lobbyists and consultants contracted to work on behalf of either the utilities or the commission itself, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by EPI.
ENPAC, the company’s political action committee, and Entergy’s top employees contributed nearly $12,500 to Boissiere’s re-election bid.
On October 28, the Entergy PAC contributed $5,000 to Boissiere, and Entergy CEO Leo Denault and three other executives each gave $1,000. On November 3, another $3,500 came in from other Entergy executives and senior staff.
Explore Lambert Boissiere III’s campaign contributions below:
The header image was sourced from WAFB.