If you’ve seen a Senate committee in Washington grilling one of the president’s cabinet nominees prior to confirmation, you might think you know what a state-level version of the confirmation process looks like. Think again.

Case in point: The confirmation of two gubernatorial nominees for seats on the powerful N.C. Utilities Commission. As one of his final acts, former Gov. Mike Easley named a pair of his closest, longest-serving aides, Susan Rabon and Bryan Beatty, to the posts. They began serving in January on an interim basis, pending confirmation by the General Assembly. A Senate committee quickly recommended their approval. Last week, the House Utilities Committee took up the matter.

Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, the committee chair, led off by presenting the nominees’ good qualities in a manner suitable for a daughter or son’s new significant other come for a holiday dinner. She’s known Beatty’s family for years, Coates purred. His father was the mayor of Salisbury and president of Livingstone College. Others, including an aide to Gov. Bev Perdue, spoke briefly, also in support. Steve Rose, the committee’s staff person, said there were no conflict of interest issues raised by their financial disclosure forms or by the state Ethics Commission.

Rabon and Beatty read their résumés. A lawyer, Rabon was with Easley for 16 years, eight in the Attorney General’s office, eight in the governor’s office. Her role was always low-key, she said, “working behind the scenes” so the trains ran on time. Beatty, a former State Bureau of Investigations agent who became a lawyer and an Easley cabinet official, pointed to his role as the state’s top homeland security officer after Sept. 11.

She said she’d do her job on the commission with “fairness and balance.” He said he’d “encourage harmony” between the utility companies and the public.

Any questions?

Well, Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, piped up, there are huge issues before the commission, like what incentives to offer (and to whom) to encourage greater energy efficiency, and how to connect the new renewable power sources to the utility grid. Any thoughts?

Beatty agreed those are important questions. So did Rabon.

Rep. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, noted that low-income families are hit hard when utility rates go up. She asked about their “level of awareness” about that and how they’d handle it.

Beatty said he was aware, and he’d be happy to work with the legislature to find a solution. Rabon agreed.

Bryant asked the two to “think out of the box” once they’re confirmed about changing the utility system so it works better for consumers.

Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, moved for approval. The vote was unanimous. Twenty minutes after it began, the confirmation session ended.

N.C. Utilities Commission: Boring, but important

When Duke Energy wants to build a coal-fired power plant, it has to go through the N.C. Utilities Commission. When a company wants a permit to transport people on a ferry, the Utilities Commission is the place to be. When certified household movers need to learn about their maximum tariff rate, well, you get the picture.

With that level of excitement, it’s no wonder utilities commissioners earn $115,000 a year.

The commission regulates electric, telephone (including pay phone service), natural gas, water, wastewater, water resale, household goods transportation, buses, brokers and ferryboats, among other duties. The commission is also responsible for administering programs to ensure the safety of natural gas pipelines.

The commissioners are appointed by the governor. Commissioners serve eight-year terms, which are staggered, and members can be reappointed.

Current commission members are:

  • Edward Finley Jr., chairman
  • Bobby Owens Jr.
  • Lorinzo Little Joyner
  • Howard Lee
  • Bill Culpepper
  • Bryan Beatty
  • Susan Warren Rabon

Contact the commissioners at 733-4249. More information is available at www.ncuc.commerce.state.nc.us.