Open Markets Supports New England Residents’ Lawsuit Against Abuses by Dominant Utilities
March 5, 2019
The Open Markets Institute has filed an amicus brief in the First Circuit Court in the case Breiding v. Eversource Energy. In the brief, Open Markets supports a class-action lawsuit by New England residents against two vertically-integrated energy utility corporations, Eversource Energy and Avangrid. The residents accuse the corporations of creating an artificial shortage of natural gas and unleashing a chain of events that drove monthly electricity bills up to astronomical levels. According to the suit, the corporations’ monopolization scheme cost New Englanders more than $3 billion.
Over the last 30 years, Congressional and federal regulatory action have replaced regulated rates with market-based prices many segments of the gas and electricity industries. Given this shift away from public utility regulation toward market pricing, the full enforcement of antitrust laws against corporations is critical, the brief says, “to protect the public from the collusive, exclusionary, and unfair practices of producers and traders of electricity and natural gas.”
New England residents filed the suit after a District Court dismissed an earlier complaint by holding that the “filed rate doctrine” bars their lawsuit. Courts developed this doctrine to protect the integrity of regulator-set rates and prevent these rates from being ignored in practice or challenged in separate judicial proceedings. But in the case at hand, the District Court’s decision to broaden the doctrine to protect market prices grants a de facto license to sellers of gas and electricity to manipulate market prices in ways that allow them to transfer millions or even billions of dollars from the public into their own coffers.
Open Markets Legal Director Sandeep Vaheesan said, “Competitive pricing in ‘deregulated’ gas and electricity markets requires strong antitrust enforcement. Arguably the most effective enforcers of the antitrust laws—private citizens and businesses hurt by antitrust violations—must be able to bring suits to obtain compensation for their injuries and to protect the public from exclusionary and other unfair practices. The First Circuit should reverse the district court’s decision and give New England residents the right to take their claims to trial.”
Press Contact: Stella Roque at Open Markets Institute, [email protected]