The Institute of Public Utilities (IPU) at Michigan State University maintains a set of data that I had very much been hoping someone was on top of: a spreadsheet providing the demographics of all regulators at public utility commissions since their inception! You can download it here, and the 2016 report is here. IPU will hopefully be updating it in the near future. Sidenote: If you work in energy regulation and haven’t been to the NARUC Rate School that IPU helps put on twice annually, I highly recommend it.
To answer the questions below, I removed all federal regulatory agencies and non-energy state commissions (e.g., railroad and telecommunications agencies).
Question 1: When did the first woman get elected or appointed to a state public utility commission?
Mamie Eaton Greene was first elected to the Florida Railroad Commission in 1927. Not only was she the first woman on a PUC (or precursor of a modern PUC), she was also the first woman to be elected to public office in Florida! She even lived in my hometown.
Question 2: When did the first woman chair of a PUC take office?
Elizabeth V. Hallanan served as Chairman of the West Virginia Public Service Commission from 1969 to 1975. She became the first female judge of a West Virginia court in 1959, and she was appointed the first female federal court judge in West Virginia, in 1983.
Question 3: What has been the gender distribution of commissioners over time?
Better than I suspected, actually. There’s a great trend of growth based on the proportion of new commissioners starting their terms by decade. Between 2010-2013, 59% of newly elected or appointed commissioners have been women! However — IPU’s 2016 update found that at the time, 76 women were serving as commissioners compared to 167 men (31%). Note that this includes federal agencies, which I removed from my analysis, but it is a concerning shift.
Question 4: Which states perform best on gender balance?
Texas is the clear winner at 45%. The Public Utilities Commission of Texas was formed in 1975, and I have heard that in its early years, it was a haven for female regulators, attorneys, and utility staff. However, the overall numbers are poor. Nevada, Alaska, Florida, and Minnesota trail Texas with 25-28%. Out of 50 states, with 3-7 commissioners per state, across 174 years (1839-2013), only 11% of the total have been women.
Question 5: Have Any States Experienced a Tipping Point?
By tipping point, I mean: have any states had a majority of their commissioners be women at any given time? To assess this, I uploaded the data to Tableau and sorted it by state and gender. You can view the results on Tableau Public or by clicking the thumbnail below. Interestingly, there are several states that have surpassed 50% women on the commission, including California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Minnesota — although Minnesota, for example, has since flipped from 3 women/2 men back to 2 women/3 men since this data was gathered.
What’s the Takeaway?
While late to the party, women have a growing presence on state public utility commissions. Since 2010, several states have reflected balanced gender representation, or even more women than men, among appointed or elected commissioners.
For over one hundred years, utilities were regulated primarily by men. This means that men have defined the legal constructs in which commissions operate. The long-tenured experts in the room are men. The ultimate objective of utility regulation, “the public interest,” has largely been interpreted by men. I point this out not to cast aspersions on male regulators, but to note that commissions are only just beginning to reflect the full range of customers whose welfare they’re charged with considering when they make decisions. And as the NAACP points out, commissions have a very long way to go with racial diversity as well. Given the significant issues utilities and commissions are facing about the future of energy regulation, the growing diversity of regulators can be an asset as they apply new perspectives to navigate these challenges.
In a subsequent post, I’ll look at the issue of energy industry diversity from another perspective: who is the Millennial Regulator?
The title of this post derives from Justice RBG’s response to the question of when she’ll be satisfied with the number of women on the Supreme Court.