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Fight unfair utility legal fees

20160328_legalfees_fbA CUB review of recent rate-hike cases found that Illinois utilities have slapped their customers with more than $40 million in legal fees, meaning the hard-earned cash consumers burn on their utility bills actually bankrolls corporate legal teams battling to increase those same bills.

But CUB is pushing new legislation in Springfield, House Bill 6276, that would require utility company shareholders—and not customers—to cover those costs. (Send a message in favor of HB 6276!)

In asking for increases, utilities will request that consumers pay for much of the legal expenses—fees for outside lawyers and expert witnesses—they rack up in rate-hike cases before the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC). As consumer advocates like CUB fight for lower rates, the ICC will consider the utility’s proposed amounts along with other expenses the company wants recovered through customer rates.

“It’s like forcing David to pay for Goliath’s steroid injections,” CUB Board President Robert Craig Neff, of Northbrook, said. “It is legal, but it isn’t right. Utilities  should make their shareholders finance their multimillion-dollar legal maneuvers for higher rates.”

Utilities spend more than CUB’s annual budget on one rate-hike case alone. The CUB review found $40.4 million dollars in legal fees major utilities have passed on to customers to raise customer rates since 2010:

ComEd: $10.5 million

Nicor Gas: $7.2 million

Illinois American and Aqua Illinois: $6.8 million

Peoples Gas: $6.8 million

North Shore Gas: $5.7 million

Ameren: $3.4 million

Numbers like this spurred CUB to fight for HB 6276. The legislation, which is now before the House Public Utilities Committee would take the burden of such costs off the shoulders of ratepayers and rightfully require shareholders to pay.

If shareholders are profiting off those high-priced outside lawyers, then they should pay for them.