This January runoff in Georgia is the center of the political universe in America right now. With the win by President-Elect Biden and the Democrats holding onto the House, the only thing that can prevent a climate friendly agenda by the Biden administration is the Senate. Currently, there are 48 Democrats and 50 Republicans in the Senate with two Senate runoffs scheduled to take place in January. A pair of wins by Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock would ensure that control of the Senate goes into Democratic hands and the promise of a green and climate friendly agenda would have more power than ever.
Of course, that’s not the only runoff on the plate this upcoming January. Joining Ossoff and Warnock is Daniel Blackman, who is running for the PSC District 4 Commissioner’s seat, currently held by Lauren “Bubba” McDonald. The PSC race doesn’t have the same flair or immediate bang like the Senate races do; however the PSC race is just as important for everyday Georgians.
The Public Service Commission is an elected body of five officials who regulate rates and provide oversight of utilities. Their roles require them to provide protection for customers from overpriced bills and ensure that utilities are able to turn a reasonable profit. However, over the years, the PSC has been dominated by Republican members who have focused on protecting utilities like Georgia Power and their profits, while ignoring the needs of customers and families across Georgia.
Daniel Blackman is the 41 year old Democratic candidate in the PSC runoff. He served as the Senior Vice President for Environment Affairs and Sustainability at Capital Fortitude Business Advisors and served as a board member of the Georgia ACLU. GCV had the opportunity to talk with Daniel Blackman and ask him some questions about who he was and how he would make a difference as a Public Service Commissioner.
Daniel Blackman’s motivation for running for PSC is simple: “I needed to be a voice that informs low and moderate income communities, that informs diverse communites and minority communities that are impacted the most [by climate issues].” But that’s not the only reason why he’s running. When asked about the PSC, Daniel says “Pocketbook issue race. Everybody has a utility bill. Everybody has a light bill, most have a gas bill. Georgia has the fifth highest electric rates in the United States and the eighth highest utility rates in the United States… This race is about the marginalized communities, the low and moderate income communities but also senior citizens on a fixed income. They don’t have the wiggle room to find extra money to pay on bills that continously rise year to year.”
Compare that in contrast to Bubba McDonald, who took over 85% of his campaign contributions from special interest groups like Georgia Power. In return, Bubba McDonald ensured Georgia Power would turn an enormous profit, even as families struggled to make ends meet during the worst pandemic in modern history. He’s voted time and time again in favor of letting Georgia Power get whatever they want, including passing off COVID expenses onto ratepayers and billing customers for the cleanup of toxic coal ash ponds created by Georgia Power.
Still, even if Daniel Blackman were to win, it’s not a guarantee that things would be different right away. The PSC, with five members, would likely overrule Daniel on most issues. However, even as he recognizes that fact (“You have a current commission that’s in the pockets of the utility companies,” says Blackman), he’s not going to let that hold him back from making a mark and changing things up.
“What I’m running on is number one, to be a champion and fearless advocate for ratepayers,” says Daniel Blackman. “We got to work now to get one seat and then in our next election cycle, pick up two more seats. But what I can do right now is I can go directly to the PSC and stand up to the utility company executives.”
“The problem with the PSC right now is that there is no checks and balances. There is no one explaining to customers why their rates are being increased,” says Daniel. “But if you have someone like myself that puts my name and my career on the line everyday to make sure that information that is hidden is brought to light, then I think people will believe more in the political process and they’ll trust and believe that they have an advocate at the PSC that works for them and is not bought and sold by the utility companies.”
Daniel Blackman also has plans for what he’d like the PSC to become. Referencing a model at Michigan State University called the Institute of Public Utilities, his goal is to form a hybridized version of the model that brings utility companies, customers, organizations and watchdogs like GCV and the PSC together in quarterly townhall settings to discuss ongoing issues as a community.
“If we create spaces, not only can we encourage workforce development into a clean energy future, but we can start taking the policy conversations [forward together].”
It’s an admirable goal, and while it may appear out of reach for the present, it may be possible to achieve in the near future with a new Public Service Commission with a candidate like Daniel Blackman leading the charge.