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Coakley Opposes Utility's Rate Hike Request

This article is more than 5 years old.

Attorney General Martha Coakley is asking state regulators to reject a more than $30 million rate hike request by a natural gas company that serves 300,000 Massachusetts customers because of what she considers unnecessary spending by company executives.

Columbia Gas has asked the Department of Public Utilities for the rate increase.

Coakley's office said in a response to the request that the utility spends too much on executive perks, such as $180,000 in travel expenses, including leases on two private jets that ferry executives around the country. The perks also include thousands of dollars on leadership retreats, retirement parties and dinners.

"The real problem is management," her office wrote, according to a report Monday by the Boston Herald.

It's also the third increase Columbia has sought in four years, according to Coakley's office, and it "promises to be back next year if the company does not receive what it wants." Columbia got a $19 million hike in 2009 and $7.8 million last year.

The $30 million is needed to fund an "aggressive effort to modernize (Columbia's) system ... and replace aging natural gas infrastructure," Columbia spokeswoman Sheila Doiron said.

Doiron also defended the use of the jets.

"A team of senior executives may start out their day in Columbus, Ohio, fly to Pittsburgh, have an employee meeting for two or three hours, fly to Massachusetts, have an employee meeting that afternoon and then fly to Houston," Doiron said. "That type of itinerary is impossible with commercial flight."

Columbia, a division of NiSource Inc., serves customers in three distinct areas of the state: greater Springfield; Lawrence and several surrounding communities; and a swath of southeastern Massachusetts from Scituate and Marshfield on the coast, west to Mendon and southwest to Seekonk.

A DPU spokeswoman said the agency will weigh the request by late February.

This program aired on November 18, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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