Good things are happening! Employers could soon be required to provide workers paid vacation. Also, big utilities are losing their unchecked political influence, decarbonization projects are getting a boost from federal funds, regulators launch a program that pays to do the right thing, and President Joe Biden’s new judicial nominee is forced to face up to her hedge-fund past.

Reining In Big Utility

States are growing tired of utility companies’ unchecked political influence, as consumers’ energy bills continue to spike. Nearly a dozen states this year introduced bills to restrict utility companies’ power to lobby for rate increases, but Michigan is taking it a step further — by potentially banning state-regulated utility companies from donating to political nonprofits and political action committees altogether.

According to the news organization Floodlight’s analysis of 25 for-profit utility companies across the country, these businesses have made political donations amounting to at least $215 million to dark-money groups in recent years. This money has gone toward increasing energy prices, hindering clean energy initiatives, and electing legislators who would serve utility interests — all at the expense of consumers who have no choice but to fund these utility companies, since they have been granted monopolies. 

More than 21 million people are struggling to pay their energy bills under the double effect of climate change and rate hikes, which in many areas have far outpaced inflation. Being cut off from the grid due to unpaid bills could also be lethal. Serious health consequences could arise from heat stroke, spoiled food, social isolation, and lack of access to home medical equipment. 

Michigan has a history of being tough on utility companies. In a settlement case with the Michigan Public Service Commission in 2019, Consumers Energy, the utility company with the most users in the state, agreed to stop giving money to nonprofit political advocacy groups for two years. This was after the company gave more than $43 million of dark money between 2014 and 2017 to nonprofits in order to try to defeat political candidates they didn’t favor. 

Michigan’s new bills aim to curtail utility companies’ ability to buy influence in the political process. Without these insider advantages, utility companies might have to improve their service and invest in upgrades such as burying power lines and developing clean energy. The donation ban extends to all utility company board members and employees and their immediate family members. It would also bar state-level politicians and candidates from accepting money from utility companies, as well as from nonprofits with utility company officials sitting on the board. 

Lawmakers Want You To Take A (Paid) Break