State lawmakers are threatening Gov. David Ige with a lawsuit over his decision to replace a utility commissioner before the panel decides whether to allow the Hawaiian Electric-NextEra Energy merger.
Ige said he got permission from the state attorney general to appoint Thomas Gorak to the Public Utilities Commission on Wednesday. But lawmakers say they are mulling legal action because the move was made without Senate confirmation
Gorak, the PUC’s chief counsel, is expected to become a member of the commission today. He’s replacing Michael Champley, whose term expired Thursday.
Senators are questioning the legality of the appointment and have pointed to a state statute that says a member shall hold office until an appointment gets qualified. They say an expiring commissioner would have to stay in the position until the Legislature is back in session to qualify the appointee through Senate confirmation.
“We just want to be sure that anyone who is going to sit on the decision as big as the NextEra decision meets all of the legal requirements,” said Senate president Ron Kouchi. “One remedy is simply to have the courts make a determination.”
Ige maintains that his decision was in line with “the public’s best interest” and that he’s “entitled to make an appointment for July 1.”
The Senate is reviewing an attorney general’s opinion, which said that Ige’s actions were appropriate.
NextEra announced plans to acquire Hawaiian Electric in December 2014. Commission Chairman Randy Iwase previously said the panel is deciding whether Hawaiian Electric and NextEra have proven they can deliver on 18 different issues, including whether the sale is in the best interest of the public and whether NextEra is fit and willing to perform the duties.
Gorak, as a lawyer for the commission, has acted a litigator in the case and has helped write a draft decision that has been under review for nearly two months.
Star-Advertiser staff contributed to this report.