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Natural gas prices are down, thanks largely to Marcellus Shale drilling

"Calling the balls and strikes" -- the Public Utility Commission

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Natural gas prices are down, thanks largely to Marcellus Shale drillingGetty ImagesNatural gas prices are down, thanks largely to Marcellus Shale drilling

If it comes into your house in a wire or a pipe, chances are the Public Utility Commission regulates it.

The five-member panel oversees Pennsylvania’s gas, electric, water and wastewater utilities. It also regulates telephone providers. According to its website, the PUC oversees more than 6,000 different utilities, approving rates, service plans and safety issues.

On the natural gas front, the commission oversees Pennsylvania’s gas pipelines and “regulates natural gas distribution company rates and service, investigates gas cost rates, and encourages the development of competitive supply markets.”

The natural gas impact fee signed into law in February 2012 empowers the PUC to oversee and collect Marcellus Shale impact fee revenue.

The law also gave the commission power to decide whether or not municipal drilling regulation and zoning is “reasonable,” and within the standards of the statewide standards laid out by the law. At the time, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, who shaped the majority of the impact fee, said he envisioned the commission serving as an umpire, “calling the balls and strikes” of whether local regulations fit within the law’s framework. However, in July 2014, the state Commonwealth Court stripped the agency of that authority. The PUC is appealing that decision.

The commission’s members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. They serve five-year terms. Current members:

  • Robert Powelson: appointed by Governor Rendell in 2008; appointed chair by Governor Corbett in 2011
  • John Coleman: appointed by Rendell in 2010
  • Gladys Brown: appointed by Corbett in 2013
  • James Cawley: served on PUC in 1970s and 80s; reappointed by Rendell in 2005
  • Pamela Witmer: appointed by Corbett in 2011

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