Marc Spitzer was cleaning out his office at the Arizona Corporation Commission last week and preparing to move his family to Washington, D.C.
Today in Phoenix, he will take the oath to become one of three new members of the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
An attorney specializing in tax law and a Republican, Spitzer, 48, was elected to the ACC in 2000 after four terms in the state Senate. A Pennsylvania native, he came to Arizona in 1981. He talked briefly last week about taking a federal post that could help shape the nation’s energy future.
Q. You’ve called being a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission the best job in state government. Why?
A. I didn’t fully know how important the commission was at first. The commission appealed to me because it is judicial in nature, and that is a good fit for my temperament. You apply facts and the law in each case.
The Arizona Corporation Commission has huge constitutional authority. It’s the way our founding fathers set it up. They wanted a commission to be a check on utility influence in the legislature.
Q. What are you most proud of doing at the ACC?
A. Restoring the people’s faith and confidence in the commission. It was once called the most dysfunctional state agency and rightly so.
Members were fighting with each other publicly. People in Washington still remember Irvin. (Former commissioner Jim Irvin, who resigned in 2003 while under an impeachment probe.) We worked hard to remove that taint.
Q. How did the FERC appointment come about?
A. I think I had some friends making contacts. I was interviewed for the first vacancy in 2005 but the president (George W. Bush) chose someone else. Then I got a phone call suddenly while in midcampaign for re-election to the (Arizona Corporation) commission.
Q. What challenges does FERC face?
A. We need to build power plants and transmission lines. Nobody wants those things in their backyard, but everybody wants electricity and they want more of it. There is a proposal to bring clean, cheap energy to New York City from Niagara Falls. It’s a no-brainer but there is opposition to the transmission line. New York City is on the cusp of blackouts as we speak.
Q. What can FERC do to prevent energy shortages?
A. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 gives the agency authority to site transmission lines, site LNG (liquefied natural gas) terminals and set reliability standards for utility companies. The 2003 blackout in the northeast was triggered by one Ohio utility not trimming trees.
Q. What issues do you want to focus on?
A. Our first job is to ensure the reliability of the electricity grid. We can’t have transmission bottlenecks. And I want to start working on natural gas. We saw dramatic increases in gas costs here in Arizona. I want to see more natural gas supply, and we need to work on our aging pipelines for natural gas and gasoline.
Q. What do you bring to the job?
A. I tried to be a consensus builder here, and I look forward to working toward the same goal at FERC working with Democrats and Republicans, the agency staff and consumer groups and various interests, including Wall Street. After all, you can’t build power plants and transmission lines if people aren’t willing to invest in them. And you know of my strong interest in renewables. That offers good balance.