Public Utilities Commission Chairman Henry C. Attwill testified April 23 before the House Ways and Means Committee that a bill filed by Rep. Birmingham to give the commission authority over power holding companies was not necessary (Boston Globe, April 24, 1931, p. 35).
Attwill said that the best way for the commission to safeguard consumer interests was through control of power operating companies, not holding companies.
He said Birmingham’s bill if based and enabled would likely result in his commission dissipating its energies “chasing the owners of the stock” rather than ensuring that the power rates were reasonable and the service good.
During an April 24 hearing of the same committee on the Birmingham bill, Sheldon E. Wardwell, counsel for the Massachusetts Electric and Gas Association said that the bill was unconstitutional (Boston Globe, April 25, 1931, p. 4).
He also asserted that gas and electricity rates would be much higher and service worse if it were not for the power holding companies.
Wardwell argued that the commission already has authority to secure the facts needed to regulate the rates charged to consumers.
“I can see no way in which the holding of stock of an operating company can affect the rates of the operating company if we have intelligent and fearless regulation,” Wardwell asserted.
“If that statement is not correct, then we have got to come to some form of regulation of holding companies, but I have never heard any argument advanced or known of any reason why an efficient Department of Public Utilities, if given proper appropriation, cannot regulate rates and make them fair to the consumer. I believe our Massachusetts department has regulated the rates and make them fair to the consumer,” he added.
Wardwell also argued that giving the commission the mandate to regulate holding companies would “take its attention from material facts,” an argument Attwill made the day before.
Robert H. Holt, representing the state’s gas companies, argued with Wardwell that the Birmingham bill was unconstitutional and that the commission had enough authority to regulate rates through operating companies.
Defending the bill, Wallace H. Walker, secretary of the Public Franchise League, said his organization believes that the bill would make possible the regulation of future mergers of holding companies, would ensure regulation of securities issued by holding companies, and allow regulation of charges for service.
“We believe that it would be to the benefit of the consumers and the investors as well to authorize the regulation of holding companies activities,” Walker said.