AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate confirmed Tennessee economist Bruce Williamson to serve on the state Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday after a confirmation process that became another political flash point between Democratic lawmakers and Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

Williamson is a senior economist at the Institute for Nuclear Security at the University of Tennessee’s Howard Baker Center for Public Policy. He will join PUC Chairman Mark Vannoy and Commissioner Carlisle McLean, both of whom were appointed by LePage to the agency that regulates electricity, gas, water and telephone utilities in the state.

Williamson will replace outgoing Commissioner David Littell, who was nominated by former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci.

There was no debate in the Senate before the 25-10 vote to confirm Williamson.

Sen. David Woodsome, a North Waterboro Republican who co-chairs the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, said Tuesday that Williamson faced tough questioning – even “grilling” – during his confirmation process. The committee voted 11-2 last week to endorse Williamson after a one-week delay led by Democrats who expressed concerns about whether LePage was exerting undue influence on the PUC.

“I am very satisfied with his qualifications, his integrity and his ethical standards,” Woodsome said.

LePage had denounced the delayed committee vote and demanded that those behind it apologize to Williamson and the public. But Democrats, as well as some advocates for renewable energy, have accused LePage of attempting to use his appointees to influence the independent, quasi-judicial commission.

Williamson’s salary was not immediately available, but PUC members were paid $118,000 to $130,000 last year.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

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