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Opponents of utility projects allege bias by ex-regulator

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A former state regulator applied to become CEO of one of Wisconsin’s largest utility companies just months after voting to approve two of its projects, prompting opponents of the plans to accuse him of bias.

As a member of the Public Service Commission, which regulates the state’s utilities, Mike Huebsch voted in favor of Dairyland Power Cooperative’s plans as a major partner to build the $492 million Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line and a $700 million natural gas plant.

His vote came in his last five months at the commission before he resigned in February.

Huebsch, who did not get the Dairyland job, did not return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

An attorney for the projects opponent, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, told the State Journal that the revelation that Huebsch sought employment with one of the project’s owners casts doubt on the impartiality of his decision.

“The public can fairly ask, would Commissioner Huebsch have felt free to vote against Dairyland … if he were thinking about, in the near future, seeking a job as CEO?” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. “It just stinks.”

The conservancy is suing the commission over approval of the transmission line through southwestern Wisconsin.

Wisconsin law prohibits former state officials from profiting from their past positions to aid private interests. They are barred from receiving pay to appear before or negotiate with state agencies for 12 months after their public service. But the law does not stop them from seeking employment in industries they oversaw.

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