The move shocked some environmental and consumer protection groups, who say Republicans are holding the Public Utility Commission hostage over an unrelated policy decision.
"Calling the balls and strikes" -- the Public Utility Commission
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 appealed the decision but ultimately lost.
The commission’s members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. They serve five-year terms. Current members:
- Gladys Brown: appointed by Corbett in 2013; appointed chair by Governor Wolf in 2015
- David Sweet: appointed by Wolf in 2016; elected vice chair in 2018
- Norman Kennard: appointed by Wolf in 2017
- Andrew Place: appointed by Wolf in 2015
- John Coleman Jr.: appointed by Rendell in 2010; reappointed by Corbett in 2012; reappointed by Wolf in 2017
Lawmakers in both parties acknowledge the measure impedes government transparency and public safety, but powerful special interests stand in the way of any major changes.
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The order requires Sunoco to schedule a public awareness meeting and pay a $1,000 fine.
The commission didn’t name specific projects. But it has come under criticism from people who say it hasn’t done enough to ensure the safety of the Mariner East project, which is transporting highly volatile natural gas liquids across the state.