The Healey administration has named two new commissioners to the state Department of Public Utilities, opting for experts with years of experience in clean energy and climate law and advocacy to help lead the Commonwealth’s transition away from fossil fuels.
The administration tapped Jamie Van Nostrand, currently the director of the West Virginia University College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, as chair of the three-person commission. It also named Staci Rubin, vice president of environmental justice at the Conservation Law Foundation. The third commissioner, Cecile Fraser, is an appointee from the Baker administration who has been serving as the commission’s acting chair.
“We know how critical it is that the DPU leadership understands that the transition to a clean energy economy is a pocketbook issue and will be thoughtful in how we evolve our grid and economy for the future,” Governor Maura Healey said in a statement. “I have full faith in Jamie Van Nostrand, Staci Rubin, and Cecile Fraser to uphold those values.”
The DPU has come under fire in recent years by clean energy and climate advocates — and from Healey herself, when she was attorney general — who accused the department of siding with the natural gas industry to the detriment of ratepayers and the state’s climate goals.
More recently, the Federal Transit Administration found the department had failed in its oversight of MBTA safety, leading some state lawmakers to consider taking that authority away from the DPU.
With the new appointees, the makeup of the commission that leads the department is getting a major makeover. They will be replacing former chair Matthew Nelson, who had joined the DPU in 2016 after working for Eversource, and commissioner Robert Hayden, who has been with the department since 2001.
The DPU is required by state law to have a three-person commission, including no more than two commissioners from a single political party. Fraser was the sitting Democrat during the Baker administration, and she will be joined by Rubin.
Van Nostrand, who fills the Republican seat, comes with years of clean energy advocacy. Among his published works: “The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution,” and “Keeping the Fox from Managing the Henhouse: Why Incumbent Utilities Should Not Be Allowed to Operate the Distribution System Platform.”
“I look forward to working with Secretary Tepper and the other energy and environmental agencies to meet Governor Healey’s clean energy objectives, while maintaining affordable energy and designing clean energy programs that benefit all communities,” Van Nostrand said in a statement.
In May, while still attorney general, Healey called for an overhaul of the DPU. In a 106-page filing, she wrote that the department needed to prioritize climate goals over the health of utilities.
“We should be setting the path for an energy system that is equitable, reliable, and affordable — not one that pumps more money into gas pipelines and props up utility shareholders,” she said at the time.
In announcing the appointees on Tuesday, the Healey administration outlined its goals for transforming the department, committing to the DPU operating “as a partner in achieving climate goals, including through facilitating rapid renewable energy growth, building a modern grid, and promoting resiliency.” It also called for the DPU, a famously opaque corner of state government, to open its doors to the public through modernized communication tools and better community engagement. In addition, the DPU should knit equity into its decision-making, and respond to concerns from environmental justice populations and low-income ratepayers.
Rubin, who served previously in the DPU as senior counsel and hearing office, is a member of the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Table, a statewide coalition of community-based, environmental, Indigenous, and civil rights organizations.
“For many years, I’ve advocated for a more inclusive, transparent DPU that considers climate justice, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring that vision to life,” Rubin said in a statement. “Together, we will work to ensure that environmental justice populations have seats at the table in shaping our clean energy future.”