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Embattled Ariz. energy regulator Tobin resigns

Arizona Corporation Commission member Andy Tobin resigned from his post and has taken a new position as Director of the Arizona Department of Administration, Gov. Doug Ducey announced May 30.

Tobin, a former state lawmaker whom Ducey appointed to the commission in 2015, had become the subject of considerable controversy centered largely around concerns that he may have exhibited bias toward the state's largest utility, Arizona Public Service Co. Those concerns resulted in lawsuits, including one from fellow Republican and regulator Bob Burns, who now chairs the commission, along with calls for investigations and, ultimately, for Tobin's resignation.

Sandra Kennedy, a former and current commission member who was re-elected in 2018 as the agency's lone Democrat, asked Tobin in October of that year to immediately resign over "a definite breach of ethical standards." Kennedy's request came after what she called "inappropriate contacts" were revealed in text messages with APS lobbyists during a pending rate case, first published by watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute.

In March, the Arizona Attorney General's Office found that Tobin and other public officials had violated state law by using public resources to influence voters to reject a renewable energy ballot measure in November 2018. Despite opposing the ballot initiative, which was soundly rejected, Tobin proposed 80% carbon-free power by 2050, including nuclear energy, as the state's "singular unifying goal" and successfully urged fellow commissioners to reimpose a moratorium on building new natural gas-fired power plants.

To take Tobin's place, Ducey appointed Lea Marquez Peterson, the former CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Some observers, however, are concerned over her ties to APS and its parent company Pinnacle West Capital Corp., which contributed $2,500 to her unsuccessful 2018 run for a U.S. congressional seat, according to a column that appeared in the Arizona Republic newspaper.

She also is a board member at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "which is almost indistinguishable from APS," a columnist for the paper wrote. The columnist added, however, that whether Peterson would "join the time-honored Corporation Commission tradition of becoming an APS pocket pet" could not yet be determined.