Wednesday, November 5, 2014
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Rural Water Association has sued the state Public Service Commission in federal court, claiming the commission overstepped its authority and conflicted with federal law when it required a 60-day delay in utility deposits for domestic violence victims.
The suit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Jackson by the association, asks U.S. District Judge Daniel Jordan III to block the rule and order the commission to pay damages and court costs. It's the latest in a series of clashes between the commission and nonprofit water and electrical utilities.
Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, a Democrat who pushed for the waiver, calls the lawsuit frivolous.
"They ought to be ashamed of themselves," Presley said Friday. "I don't think their customers would approve of their money being spent like this."
The association, with more than 1,000 member utilities statewide, says a 1961 federal law bars states and localities from doing anything to harm the finances of water utilities that owe money to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development program.
"The losses sustained by the water associations, as a result of the new proposed rule, will necessarily be borne by each individual member of the rural water association since the cost of water service will probably increase as a result of the waivers," the suit states.
The association also argues that the rule breaks state law that says the Public Service Commission can't regulate the rates or internal affairs of a water association, electrical cooperative or municipal utility. The commission ruled that a deposit isn't a rate, but Jim Herring, the lawyer for the water association, has said that definition is too narrow. He points to a state law that says a rate is basically any monetary charge levied by a utility.
The suit attacks Presley in particular, saying his statements show he improperly prejudged the matter. All three commission members voted for the rule. The suit says a member of the Public Utilities Staff, a separate agency, told the association that the waiver, because it's expected to benefit few people, is "more of a public relations program than anything else."
The commission's actions were also attacked on other grounds, with the suit saying the economic impact statement required in a state rulemaking process "totally fails to comply with the requirements" and that proper public notice wasn't given after the proposal was changed.