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WI Supreme Court Protects Improper Communications Between Former Commissioner Mike Huebsch & Utilities

July 07, 2022

“Allowing these kinds of improper communications without any recourse under state law undermines public confidence in the fairness and integrity of Wisconsin’s utility regulatory process”

Statement by Howard Learner

Executive Director, Environmental Law & Policy Center

Attorney Representing Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation

“We’re disappointed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court overreached in holding that Wisconsin law prevents conservation and consumer groups from taking discovery into the hundreds of phone calls, secret text messages, lunches, dinners and golf dates between former Public Service Commissioner Mike Huebsch and senior executives for the Transmission Companies that proposed this costly high-voltage transmission line that would run through a protected National Wildlife Refuge and cut through the heart of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. Allowing these kinds of improper communications without any recourse under state law undermines public confidence in the fairness and integrity of Wisconsin’s utility regulatory process.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court majority bent the judicial rules to provide “special treatment” in protecting improper conduct by their political ally, former Commissioner Huebsch. Even the Transmission Companies tacitly recognized that his secret text messaging with utility and transmission company agents was wrong.

“We agree with the three justices in dissent that the Supreme Court majority stretched to reach issues that were not properly before the Court, provided “special treatment” to Commissioner Huebsch, and that the decision will only “deepen inequalities in our system of justice.” As the dissent concluded: “if our government is truly one of laws and not men and women, then we cannot … carve out special treatment for ourselves and only person’s like us.”

“While we disagree with the result, the Court’s opinion on state law issues clears the way for the federal courts to address the underlying bias and due process issues under the U.S. Constitution.

“The decision also clears the way for the Wisconsin circuit court to finally rule on the underlying merits of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s September 2019 Order granting a license for this massive and costly high-voltage transmission line project. These issues have been on hold for more than two years while the Transmission Companies have been litigating this case while at the same time clearcutting and bulldozing their way through the scenic Driftless Area landscape. Our clients look forward to having their day in court on the merits. A fair review of the evidence will show that there are better, more cost-effective, more environmentally sound, and more flexible alternatives for reliable clean energy in the Wisconsin Driftless Area.”

The $492 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line will cut a wide swath through the Driftless Area’s scenic landscapes, conservation lands, key waters and other natural resource treasures. The companies building the transmission line are Dairyland Power Cooperative, American Transmission Co., and ITC Midwest.

Commissioner Huebsch was a member of the formal Advisory Committee of the Midcontinent System Operator (MISO), which initially proposed the high-voltage transmission line, and was an active party litigating in support of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line in the contested case and adjudicatory proceedings before the PSC. Huebsch also unsuccessfully applied for the CEO position at Dairyland in February 2020 after he approved the transmission line five months earlier as a PSC Commissioner.

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