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Ariz. commissioner loses court case challenging APS rate-case decision

The sole dissenting commissioner in the Arizona Corporation Commission's approval of a major Arizona Public Service Co. rate case lost his court challenge to that decision.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Daniel Kiley issued a Dec. 18 decision denying Commissioner Robert Burns' efforts to investigate whether any of his fellow commissioners were biased in supporting the 2017 rate increase for the Pinnacle West Capital Corp. subsidiary because the company contributed to their political campaigns.

The four commissioners, Pinnacle West, APS and CEO Donald Brandt all moved to dismiss Burns' complaint and the judge agreed, saying Burns does not have legal standing to unilaterally investigate bias of fellow commissioners and pursue their disqualification. State law makes clear that the commission as a whole must authorize an investigation, rather than a single member of that commission, the judge found.

A staffer in Burns' office said Dec. 20 the commissioner planned to meet with his attorney to discuss what next possible course of action Burns might take.

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Arizona Corporation Commissioner Robert Burns

Source: Associated Press

Kiley had initially ruled in August 2017 that Burns could amend his suit against the two utility companies to also name the commissioners in his probe of whether campaign financing had influenced their rate-case decision.

That same month Burns petitioned the state Supreme Court to vacate the commission's rate decision and require his fellow commissioners to cooperate with his inquiry into the utility companies' campaign financing. The high court declined without comment to accept jurisdiction in the matter.

'Dark money' allegations continue

Burns has long contended that Pinnacle West provided "dark money" contributions through front groups to elect commissioners in their 2014 and 2016 campaigns.

He may soon get added support on the Arizona Corporation Commission. On Oct. 30, days before she was elected to replace commission Chairman Tom Forese, Commissioner-elect Sandra Kennedy filed a letter in the docket accusing Pinnacle West of contributing millions of dollars to elect APS' favored candidates.

In her letter, Kennedy called for Commissioner Andy Tobin's resignation, claiming that he was cozy with APS lobbyists and benefited from a political action committee's receipt of $1.4 million from Pinnacle West for his 2016 election.

"During the 2016 [Arizona Corporation Commission] elections, APS' parent company Pinnacle West set up a PAC, called 'AZ Coalition for Reliable Electricity,' which spent $4.2 million of the utility's money on independent expenditures to elect APS' favored candidates, including Tobin," Kennedy wrote.

Besides Tobin and Forese, the other commissioners named in Burns' suit were former Commissioner Doug Little, who resigned in October 2017 to take an appointment with the U.S. Energy Department, and Commissioner Boyd Dunn. Commissioner Justin Olson, who was appointed to the commission by Gov. Doug Ducey to replace Little after the rate case was decided, was not named in Burns' suit.