Unfair Trade Practice Claims Involving Utility Billing: PUC has Primary but Not Exclusive Jurisdiction

Utility customers who challenge billing practices under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) must bring their challenge first to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), but may pursue their claim in civil court under the UTPCPL if the PUC concludes that the utility violated its tariff, the Commonwealth Court has ruled.

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EPA Finalizes 2012 Renewable Fuel Standards

EPA has posted its bio diesel standards for 2012.  As part of the EPA’s mandate to march the U.S. toward energy independence, the EPA establishes the minimum bio fuel requirements that manufacturers must meet each year.  The new bio standards are out and they equate to an aggressive total renewable fuel volume of 9% of all fuels sold.

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PUC Begins Implementation of New Pipeline Safety Law

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission held a workshop on Wednesday, January 4, 2012, to present a summary of Pennsylvania’s new Gas and Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Act (“Act 127”) and to solicit comments and suggestions from industry members and other interested parties about details of the implementation of the Act’s provisions.  The PUC indicated that it will schedule another meeting between its staff and industry representatives in early-mid February to obtain further comments and input as it finalizes its plans for the implementation of the Act.

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PUC PROPOSES RULES FOR IMPROVING COMPETITIVENESS OF ELECTRICITY MARKETS

On December 15, 2011 the PUC issued two orders designed to make Pennsylvania’s retail electricity market fully competitive. Both orders are a product of the PUC’s ongoing Investigation of Pennsylvania’s Retail Electricity Market (“RMI”), Docket No. I-2011-2237952. The first order (“RMI Final Order”) addresses the desired features of soon-to-be-filed electric utility default service plans and programs that will be implemented as part of those plans. The second order (“RMI Work Plan Order”) provides granular detail on specific components, including consumer education, accelerating of switching time frames, customer referral programs, and retail opt-in auctions.

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Commonwealth Court OKs Nonmonetary Contract Claims Against Commonwealth in Casino Central Computer RFP Dispute

In a case arising from the award of the contract for the Gaming Board/Department of Revenue’s Central Computer Control System that monitors transactions in slot machines in Pennsylvania’s casinos, the Commonwealth Court has ruled that a claim based on a contract that seeks relief that is nonmonetary in nature (i.e., for declaratory relief and specific performance) can proceed directly in the Commonwealth Court.  Scientific Games International, Inc. v. Commonwealth, __ A. 3d __ (380 M.D. 2011, filed Nov. 30, 2011).

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PUC Approves Withdrawal of Laser Northeast Gathering Co.’s Application for Public Utility Status

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) granted Laser Northeast Gathering Co.’s (“Laser”) petition to withdrawal its application to become a public utility.

By a 3-2 vote adopting  a motion by PUC Vice Chairman John F. Coleman Jr., the PUC approved Laser’s petition to withdraw its application and denied the request of certain parties to rescind its prior Orders in the case. PUC Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer and Commissioner James H. Cawley dissented not as to granting withdrawal but as to the issue of whether the prior Orders should be rescinded.

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PUC Announces Agenda for November 10th Retail Electricity Markets Investigation Hearing

 

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Retail Markets Investigation to Bear Fruit

The first product of the PUC’s Retail Markets Investigation is expected in the form of a Tentative Order to be voted on at the PUC’s October 13, 2011 Public Meeting, and will address the Electric Distribution Company (“EDC”) Default Service Plans for June 1, 2013 and beyond.

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Pa. Insurance Department encourages insurance producers to help all flood victims

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department has delivered a clear message to all licensed insurance producers: you are expected to provide guidance to flood victims, even if they have no insurance to cover their losses.

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Will The FCC Pull Off The Band-aid on Intercarrier Compensation?

The FCC has been considering comprehensive intercarrier compensation reform for more than a decade, and on more than one occasion has appeared to be on the brink of issuing a major decision.  Now, once again, there are signs that the FCC may finally take action in this complex area which presents some of the most intractable issues in telecommunications.  This post will provide some background on this issue and focus on one of the more controversial aspects of the debate – possible preemption by the FCC of what have traditionally been intrastate ratemaking decisions.

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Pennsylvania officials confronting tough issues in health insurance

Few current social or political topics stir the emotions quite as much as health care reform.  Whether you believe that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is a sign of imminent and apocalyptic American socialism or an important step towards ensuring that all Americans have access to basic health care, nothing can ruin a tranquil Sunday dinner at Grandma’s house quicker than prodding Uncle Charlie into a debate about whether Uncle Sam is taking over our health care system.  But politics aside, if anyone was naïve enough to hope that the health care debate ended when President Obama signed the bill into law in March, 2010, they are facing the reality that 18 months later there still seem to be many more questions than answers when it comes to the future of health insurance in America.  And in Pennsylvania, while state government officials are busy deciphering how their citizens can get the most out of the PPACA, they are also distracted with having to deal with another potentially critical health care problem in the western half of the state - where an impasse between the area’s largest hospital system and the dominant health insurance company threatens access to doctors and hospitals for millions of patients who already have good insurance.

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PUC Proposes to Amend Competitive Safeguard Regulations

In light of ongoing concerns that incumbent utilities could share customer information, link regulated services with non-competitive services, and either directly or indirectly favor affiliated generators and thereby compromise efforts to achieve a truly competitive market, the Public Utility Commission at its August 25, 2011, public meeting issued a proposed rulemaking to revise existing competitive safeguard regulations at 52 Pa. Code §§ 54.121-123, which have been in effect since July 2000.  Comments on the proposed amendments are due in mid to late October, 45 days from the date of their publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

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The Ethanol Credit - Slip Sliding Away

The Ethanol Blenders’ tax credit, which has existed for decades, is in serious jeopardy of being repealed or at a minimum non-renewed.

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PRESS RELEASE

KEVIN J. McKEON APPOINTED TO PA. APPELLATE COURT  PROCEDURAL RULES COMMITTEE

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PA PUC to Revise Policy Statement on Scope of Exemption from PUC Regulation for the Transportation of Injured or Ill Persons

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission recently proposed revisions to the policy statement, at 52 Pa. Code §41.11, that defines the scope of the exemption, from Commission regulation, for the provision of transportation service to injured or ill persons for medical treatment.

The proposed revisions, which were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and issued for public comment on June 11, 2011, are intended to eliminate confusion about the application of the policy to non-emergency transportation of injured or ill persons.

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Medical professional liability insurance limits will remain unchanged in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Mike Consedine today made public his determination that the coverage limits required by law for medical professional liability will remain unchanged for 2012.  In an announcement much-anticipated by insurers and health care providers, Commissioner Consedine indicated that “it cannot be definitively found that additional basic insurance capacity is presently available and as such…limits of coverage for the primary market and Mcare shall remain unchanged.”

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PUC Initiates Phase II of Competitive Retail Electricity Market Investigation

On July 28th, 2011, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission entered an Order intended to provide guidance to the PUC Staff and interested stakeholders regarding issues to be addressed in Phase II of the PUC’s Investigation into the competitiveness of Pennsylvania’s retail electric market.  The Phase II process will involve a series of technical conferences to be chaired by the PUC’s Office of Competitive Market Oversight (OCMO) as well as additional en banc hearings.

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PUC SEEKS COMMENTS ON SMART METER PROCUREMENT AND INSTALLATION ISSUES

The PUC recently issued a Tentative Order seeking comment on a number of issues involved in the implementation of the deployment of smart meter technology throughout the Commonwealth and the data transactions required to support that implementation. Smart Meter Procurement and Installation, Docket No. M-2009-2092655 (Tentative Order entered June 30, 2011).

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Commonwealth Court Upholds PUC's Approval of PPL's Poconos Transmission Line

In January 2009, PPL Electric Utilities Corp. (“PPL”) sought Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) approval to construct a 500kV Pennsylvania-New Jersey transmission line, part of which, subject to the issuance of appropriate permits, will run through the National Park system in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.  The project involves modernization of an existing 230kV transmission line and the exercise of eminent domain over five parcels of land.  A PUC Administrative Law Judge issued a recommended decision granting PPL’s application on the condition that PPL not begin construction on the 230kV line prior to obtaining all approvals necessary for construction.  The PUC's final opinion and order adopted the ALJ’s recommended decision but also required that PPL inform the PUC whether it intended to defer its construction schedule and refrain from constructing a certain portion of the 230kV line until obtaining a National Park Service permit.  On reconsideration, the PUC clarified that PPL could begin construction on any other part of either line that was not subject to the National Park Service permit because to hold otherwise “would result in a significant, unacceptable delay in light of the demonstrated need for the line.”

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No “Unintentional” Violation of Ethics Act Possible

Interpreting the “conflict of interest” provisions of Pennsylvania’s Ethics Act, the Supreme Court has ruled that “to violate the conflict of interest provision … a public official must be consciously aware of a private pecuniary benefit for himself, his family, or his business, and then must take action in the form of one or more specific steps to attain that benefit.”  Kistler v. State Ethics Comm’n,  __Pa. __, ___A. 2d ___ (2011) (59 MAP 2009, decided June 22, 2011).

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