The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) is an agency of Washington state government. To understand the Commission, it helps knowing who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Please also see our organization chart, mission statement, Performance Scorecard, and our 2005-07 "activity inventory" (available as a PDF file on the Office of Financial Management website).
Who We Are
The WUTC is a three-member board, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate to six year terms, that regulates the rates, services, and practices of privately-owned utilities and transportation companies, including electric, telecommunications, natural gas, water, and solid waste collection companies, pipeline safety, private commercial ferries, buses, and motor carriers.
The UTC currently consists of Jeff Goltz, chairman, Patrick Oshie, and Philip Jones.
The Commission regulates utilities under authority granted in Title 80, and transportation companies under Title 81, of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). The Commission's rules are in Title 480 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). Here's a brief history of the Commission.
Commissioners are supported by about 150 Commission Staff, including accountants, auditors, economists, engineers, consumer complaint specialists, enforcement officers, and investigators. Please see our organization chart.
What We Do -- Economic and Safety Regulation
The Commission regulates a variety of industries with significant importance to Washington citizens and its economy: Regulated companies reported over $5 billion in revenue in 2003. We only oversee privately-owned utilities that offer service to the public in Washington; UTC jurisdiction does not extend to public utility districts, municipal utilities, or cooperatives. Some industries we regulate include the following.
(Links below are to specific chapters of state law governing such industries).
- Electric utilities, three companies serving about 1.5 million customers.
- Natural gas distribution companies, four firms serving over 1 million customers.
- Telephone companies - about 20 local telephone companies and 450 competitive firms (but we do not regulate wireless or cable TV).
- Private water companies, 70 companies serving 80,000 customers.
- Solid waste collection companies, over 60 firms offering solid waste, recycling, hazardous waste, and medical waste collection.
- Commercial ferries, 16 privately-owned ferries.
- Household goods movers, 216 businesses,
- Rail crossing safety at more than 1,600 rail crossings by 20 railroads.
- Pipeline safety and rates for 29 pipelines.
- Buses and airporters, 181 firms.
- Register over 6,000 motor freight (trucking) firms, and
- Low level radioactive waste disposal, set rates at one of the only disposal sites in the United States.
While the WUTC is primarily an economic regulator, we have some public safety responsibilities for pipelines and railroads. Public utility commissions arose about 100 years ago to prevent the abuse of monopoly power by vital transportation companies and utilities. The most visible aspect of economic regulation is probably reviewing changes in rates, but economic regulation also includes:
- Approving tariffs that set out rules and regulations for receiving service.
- Prescribing accounting formats for regulated companies to use in keeping their books
- Reviewing annual reports
- Approving mergers and affiliated interest transactions
- Approving entry to some industries
- Supervising service quality, and
- Resolving customer complaints.
Some of these functions are discussed in greater detail, below.
By law, the Commission must set rates that are fair, just, reasonable, and sufficient. This means that the Commission must balance the interest of customers, in receiving service at the lowest cost against that of investors, who have an opportunity to earn a rate of return on their reasonable investment used in providing service.
The Commission's Consumer Affairs Section resolves customer complaints with regulated companies.
The Commission has several public safety responsibilities. The Commission has a number of railroad safety programs, such as setting speed limits for trains in populated areas, inspecting railroad facilities, reviewing proposed rail crossing closures to ensure public transportation and safety will not be harmed, and coordinating with the Operation Lifesaver program. The Commission's Pipeline Safety program supervises intrastate natural gas operators so facilities are maintained and operated safely.
Annual Reports and Information
Most utilities we regulate must file an annual report. These are public documents, and may be reviewed at Commission headquarters in Olympia, or by requesting a copy from our Records Center.
How We Regulate -- Quasi-judicial, Quasi legislative, and Administrative Decision-making
The Commission has a variety of decision-making modes, roughly corresponding to the three facets of government: legislative, executive, and judicial.
Legislative Decision-making: Open Meetings
The Commission has quasi-legislative power to hold hearings and adopt rules. Before any regulated company can change its service or rates, the proposal must be approved by the Commission. A regulated company begins the process by filing its proposed changes with the Commission's Records Center, where it is assigned a unique Docket Number and assigned to the appropriate staff to review.
Open meetings are convened two to three times a month to process filings. The open meeting agenda, which has four main sections:
At the Open Meeting, Commission staff presents its analysis and recommendation on important agenda items via a written memo and presentation. The company has an opportunity to present its view, and there is opportunity for any interested person to speak on the proposal. After this, Commissioners take action on the proposal by making a motion to approve the filing. If a filing is not approved, in most cases it is "suspended" and set for a formal quasi-judicial style hearing.
- Utility filings,
- Transportation filings,
- Consent items, which are approved with a single motion by the Commission, and
- No action items which take effect without Commission action.
In some cases the Commission acts as a quasi-judicial fact-finding tribunal to hear and decide cases. These hearings are formal legal proceedings:
The main parties in most such rate cases are Commission Staff, the company, and ratepayers, who are represented by a special Attorney General, the Public Counsel. Other groups or individuals may intervene if they can demonstrate an interest in the case. Commission decisions are embodied in written Orders, which summarize the issues in the case; parties and their positions on issues; and findings of fact and conclusions of law based on the record.
- An Administrative Law Judge presides at hearings, often with the Commission sitting on the bench during sessions.
- Sessions are transcribed by a court reporter.
- Parties are represented by attorneys; witnesses are sworn to tell the truth, and are cross examined by attorneys.
- The Commission must reach a decision based on facts from evidence in the formal record of the hearing.
The Commission also acts as an administrative agency in Washington State government. Commissioners and Commission staff work with other state agencies to implement legislation, prepare reports and studies, and efficiently administer statutory responsibilities. The Commission is bound by laws which apply to executive branch agencies, such as the Open Public Meeting Act and Administrative Procedures Act.