CHICAGO – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today announced several unprecedented steps his administration is taking to protect consumers from what is expected to be one of the most difficult winters in memory due to record energy costs. Blagojevich is naming a Special Director of Emergency Energy Assistance to marshal resources from the public and private sectors and to coordinate assistance to vulnerable populations impacted by record-high heating costs. The Governor tapped Ed Hurley, outgoing chairman of the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), to serve as the new Special Director this winter. The Governor appointed Marty Cohen, Executive Director of the Citizens Utility Board to replace Hurley as chair of the ICC. Cohen will be the first consumer advocate ever to lead the ICC, which is responsible for regulating utilities and ensuring the citizens of Illinois safe, efficient, reliable, and uninterrupted utility service at reasonable prices.
“Home heating costs are expected to increase by nearly 40 percent this winter. That’s an additional $500 for the average Illinois family. All of us will feel the impact of the energy crisis – but for our senior citizens and families living on fixed incomes, the blow will be enormous. Peoples’ health and safety will be in serious jeopardy if faced with the choice of heating their homes or buying groceries,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Just as the state successfully mobilized resources at every level to deal with Hurricane Katrina evacuees, we will again mobilize a statewide response for many Illinoisans who will be seeking refuge from the cold weather this winter because of their inability to pay their heating bills.”
The Special Director of Emergency Energy Assistance will coordinate with state agencies to launch an awareness campaign to notify the public about how to stay warm and healthy during the coldest months and measures they can take to make their homes energy efficient and reduce heating costs. The Special Director will also coordinate with local governments and organizations to identify the most vulnerable residents, register those who qualify for heating assistance and establish monitoring systems to check on people’s safety during cold periods. He will also coordinate with local governments to prepare warming centers throughout the state that will serve at-risk residents throughout the winter.
In addition to meeting the needs of vulnerable populations, the Special Director will set up a complaint system that will assist the state in monitoring utility prices and shut-offs. The Special Director will work with utilities, the ICC and other state agencies to ensure the public’s best interest is protected.
The Governor asked Ed Hurley, who has served on the ICC since early 1999, to organize the new Office, using his expertise and contacts to oversee a comprehensive response to the winter heating crisis. Hurley resigned as chair of the ICC today, and will take on his new responsibilities immediately.
Gov. Blagojevich named Marty Cohen as the new chairman of the ICC.
“This is an unprecedented time for consumers in Illinois. They’re getting squeezed on all sides by rising gasoline costs, heating costs and utilities seeking rate increases. It’s more important than ever that consumers’ interests are strongly represented at the decision-making table. I’m proud to put a proven advocate like Marty Cohen at the helm of the ICC,” said the Governor.
Cohen has served as executive director of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) for the past 12 years. He led the organization’s successful efforts to pass legislation in 1997 that led to a record 20 percent cut in electric rates for most Illinois consumers, saving utility customers a total of over $5 billion. He also headed CUB’s negotiations with SBC in 2002 that resulted in a $50 per phone line credit for SBC customers, the largest in state history.
CUB was created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1983 to represent the interests of residential utility customers across the state. The statute directs CUB to carry out that mission by intervening in ratemaking proceedings before the ICC, in the courts and before other public bodies and by providing consumers with information and assistance regarding their utility companies.