BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on Thursday urged the Department of Public Utilities to reject a $20 million cost increase request by the Western Massachusetts Electric Company.

In a brief filed by Coakley's office on Tuesday, Coakley argued that a majority of the storm recovery costs sought by WMECO, including promotional t-shirts and employee bonuses, should not be passed onto ratepayers. Coakley argued that bonuses and promotional materials are discretionary budget items that should not be included in a rate increase.

Coakley's office recommended the DPU reduce WMECO's request to approximately $4.2 million.

"The majority of costs that WMECO is seeking to recover are unjustified, and should not be passed on to ratepayers," Coakley said. "It was particularly concerning to discover that they were trying to recover costs for promotional materials touting the storm response of a company that has already been fined $2 million for prior poor performance. As ratepayer advocate for the commonwealth, we will fight to keep unjustified and excessive costs and rates from impacting the wallets of Massachusetts residents."

Coakley's brief argued that the utility included operational costs for regular storms that were grouped together to characterize them as large, extraordinary storms, failed to pursue costs for vegetation management to telecommunication companies like Verizon and failed to provide how it calculated an upward adjustment in cost related to installing equipment during weather events.

In December, the DPU issued more than $2 million in fines against WMECO for the company's poor response to the October 2011 snow storm that caused power outages for thousands of Massachusetts residents.

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