Paula Carmody is retiring as People’s Counsel for the State of Maryland, ending a three-decades stint as a consumer advocate at a time of seismic changes in state regulatory rules.
Carmody, who has held the position since 2007 and had served as assistant counsel for 15 years previously, will step down from the job on Jan. 1.
The Office of People’s Counsel is a state office that operates independently from the Office of Attorney General and the Maryland Public Service Commission to advocate for Maryland’s consumers of electric, natural gas and other utilities.
Much has changed over the decades in which Carmody has worked protecting Maryland’s utility consumers. The introduction of retail energy competition in Maryland in the late 1990s caused the OPC to become much more involved in wholesale energy markets, a shift that Carmody says continues to significantly influence the office’s work.
The switch from landlines, which the state regulates, to cellphones, which it does not, reduced the OPC’s involvement in the telecommunications market. Clean energy and sustainability have become more significant parts of the office’s work in recent years.
Most recently, of course, the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the office’s advocacy.
“2020 has brought to the floor like nothing else the essential nature of our utility services,” she said in an interview Monday. “(With) the adoption of telework … it’s certainly put a spotlight on the importance of these services to each and every household.”
She counts her office’s responses to the pandemic over the past eight months, such as working to extend the state’s moratorium on utility shut-offs, among the accomplishments she is most proud of over the course of her 14 years as People’s Counsel. She also takes pride in the work the office has done to develop comprehensive consumer protection regulations and to identify issues relating to deceptive marketing, as well as the general quality of the office’s legal work.
In the coming years, she sees a recent Maryland Public Service Commission policy, which allows a new method of rate-setting in which utility companies’ rates can be approved up to three years in advance, being a major issue of focus for the OPC.
“This change in approach could certainly have a very real-world impact on how rates are set and the rates that people are paying in the state,” she said. “It may seem … like it’s not relevant to people, but we’re here for that. To address these very technical and regulatory issues.”
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has named David S. Lapp as the next People’s Counsel of Maryland. Lapp is currently the deputy counsel for the Maryland Department of Health and previously served as chief counsel of the attorney general’s tobacco enforcement unit
Lapp said that he is “honored and humbled by the opportunity the attorney general has provided me to advocate on behalf of Maryland residential consumers.”