S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has picked Columbia lawyer Robert Bockman to fill a seat on the Public Service Commission as major issues related to SCE&G’s failed nuclear expansion loom before the regulatory board.
Bockman, 71, will replace Nikki Hall, who quit the commission last month to take a job with a Washington, D.C., utility. Bockman’s appointment is immediate.
A former PSC general counsel, Bockman will fill the seat on an interim basis. Elections will be held at a later date for a full term. Bockman was not available for comment. The job pays $107,000.
“It has never been more important for the Public Service Commission to be made up of public servants that will ask the difficult questions on behalf of South Carolinians, and I am confident that Mr. Bockman will do exactly that,” McMaster said in a statement.
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SCE&G and its partner in the nuclear project, the state-owned Santee Cooper utility, are under fire for spending $9 billion on the project, then walking away after nearly a decade of effort.
The PSC is weighing whether to return to SCE&G’s ratepayers some or all of the $1.7 billion that they have been charged for the project. The PSC will hear a presentation Thursday from SCE&G on the current status of the abandoned nuclear site.
Bockman spent much of his career in private practice with the McNair Law Firm, one of South Carolina’s most prominent legal firms. But he also has experience working with the PSC and as a lawyer for a regulated utility.
His utility experience includes serving as the state assistant attorney general assigned to the PSC. From 1977-1981, Bockman was general counsel to the Public Service Commission. He also spent time with Carolina Power and Light, as its general counsel.
A 1968 Vanderbilt University graduate, Bockman currently is a senior legal writing instructor at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
McMaster’s appointment of Bockman drew skepticism from some in the environmental community. While Bockman is knowledgeable about complex utility regulation, he also has ties to the utility business, environmentalists noted.
“That he has been a former utility lawyer doesn’t give me a lot of confidence,’’ Columbia environmentalist Leslie Minerd said. “But we can hope for the best. At least he knows what a kilowatt is.’’
State Rep. James Smith, the Richland Democrat who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor, supported McMaster’s choice, predicting Bockman will be even-handed and fair.
Bockman said Monday night that he was glad to serve and realizes the importance of his appointment. He’ll take a temporary leave of absence from the Carolina law school, but plans to return to the university. Bockman said he will serve only as an interim commissioner until elections are held for the seat.
“These are some extraordinary times,’’ Bockman said of the pending nuclear issues. “I do think that my experience will be of some value in the coming months.’’
SCE&G spokesman Eric Boomhower said the utility “looks forward to working with him.’’