By Michael V. Hannigan
Earlier this month, I wrote a story about State Sen. Robert Nichols filing legislation to help the customers of investor-owned water utilities.
State Rep. Lance Gooden, who has been an outspoken defender of water customers in the past, has also filed legislation for the same reason.
Since I wrote about this subject recently, it seems easiest to let Gooden explain it himself. The following comes from his weekly column:
In our continuing battle against monopolistic, out-of-state investor owned water utilities (IOUs) in our area, I have filed two pieces of pro-consumer legislation: HB 1456 and HB 1457. (Click the link to see the bill). IOUs are different from city water utilities and water supply corporations because IOUs don’t have to answer to the voters that live in the areas they serve.
Under current law, a municipality can initiate and contest a rate increase proposed by an IOU on behalf of its citizens; however, ratepayers in an unincorporated area are forced to raise their own funds to fight
against a well-funded legal team for the right to affordable drinking water. This is wrong.
HB 1456 would level the playing field and allow a county to initiate and intervene in a contested rate case proceeding on behalf of its citizens living in an unincorporated area. I really appreciate Henderson County Judge Richard Sanders for joining me, along with the entire Henderson County Commissioners’ Court, in supporting this legislation. Monarch Water has been the most problematic in our area, though I have heard a rising number of complaints from Aqua Water’s customers.
Our second bill addresses the legal expenses incurred by an IOU if its ratepayers contest a proposed rate increase. Current law allows an IOU to pass legal expenses incurred onto its ratepayers if the IOU wins a rate case. This law only serves to discourage the consumer from contesting a rate increase due to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s history of ruling in favor of these utilities. With HB 1457, I’m seeking to reduce the amount an IOU can pass along to its ratepayers.
For too long these monopolistic companies like Monarch Utilities have been fleecing citizens across Texas with exorbitant rates while consistently applying for rate increases. Texas law has allowed this and, obviously, the IOUs would like to keep things the way they are. Our bills face tough opposition from expensive lobby teams hired with the dollars that my constituents are paying each month for overpriced water.