Pennsylvania’s appellate rules and the ever-evolving case law interpreting them can make it a challenge to even get to the merits of an appeal. Don’t get caught on the wrong side of a waiver trap. Some reminders:
HMS Legal Blog
As the PA PUC embarks on its investigation of the natural gas markets, what evidence can we discern about how the agency sees competitive energy markets and how those markets should evolve?
Public Utility Commission (PUC) Commissioners gave Sunoco Pipeline a fighting chance at exemption from local zoning for outbuildings housing utility structures on the Mariner East Pipeline, finding prima facie evidence that Sunoco is a public utility and overruling the ALJs’ July 23, 2014 Initial Decision granting preliminary objections finding to the contrary.
Sunoco’s proposed Mariner East pipeline that would transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) from Pennsylvania’s rich Marcellus Shale production in Western Pennsylvania to processing plants in southeastern Pennsylvania, received a blow from Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission ALJs on July 23, 2014.
On Thursday, July 24, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission decided on a way forward that will allow App-based transportation networking services Uber and Lyft to continue operating in Pittsburgh while the Commission decides whether and how to grant them permanent authority to operate. The Commission granted Emergency Temporary Authority (“ETA”) for the entities to operate experimental transportation networks in Allegheny County and simultaneously granted Commission prosecutorial staff petitions ordering the entities to cease and desist operations. The net effect is that the Commission has determined on a preliminary basis that Uber and Lyft have been operating illegally (i.e., before their applications to provide transportation service were granted), but has also allowed them to continue operating (in compliance with strict ETA requirements) while their pending applications are being considered by PUC ALJs. Moreover, during their operation under ETA, the Commission directed that the entities maintain insurance higher than the minimum required by the relevant regulations and imposed eligibility restrictions on vehicles that offer transportation service.
In Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, 83 A.3d 901(Pa. 2013) the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated key provisions of Act 13, the statute that removed from local zoning control the power to regulate oil and gas operations through restrictions on the placement and operation of oil and gas facilities. The Court remanded to the Commonwealth Court to consider whether other provisions of Act 13, including provisions that give the PUC power to review local zoning ordinances and withhold impact fees, remain viable.
On June 2, the EPA released its much anticipated proposed rule mandating a reduction in carbon emissions from existing power plants. The rule requires an overall national decrease in carbon emissions by 30% from existing plants by 2030. The proposed rule instructs states to submit plans to achieve state specific goals for emission reductions. Alternatively, states may collaborate with other states and submit a joint plan. Plans must be submitted by 2017, or 2018 if collaborating with other states.
On May 15, 2014, during the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s annual meeting, the PBA’s Administrative Law Section presented the James S. Bowman Award to Kevin J. McKeon of Hawke McKeon & Sniscak, LLP. The award honors a lawyer who is making a significant impact on the practice of administrative law and who is demonstrating leadership in mentoring administrative law practitioners. McKeon regularly represents clients before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and also serves as lead counsel on significant cases before Pennsylvania’s appellate courts and the federal circuit courts of appeal. He serves on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee, is a co-author of Pennsylvania Appellate Practice, and is a frequent lecturer on topics in administrative law and appellate procedure. The award is named for the late Honorable James S. Bowman, the first President Judge of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, whose comprehensive knowledge of administrative law, government law and appellate procedure was widely recognized and respected.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Considers Comments Submitted in Response to its Proposed Rulemaking Order to Revise Evidentiary Criteria for Household Goods in Use Carrier Applicants
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“Commission”), which regulates moving companies, is reviewing comments to proposed rules that would make it easier for movers to obtain authority to commence operations in Pennsylvania. In its September 12, 2013 Proposed Rulemaking, the Commission recommended revisions to the evidentiary criteria applicable to moving company applicants. As reported in an earlier blog post on this site, the revisions recommended by the Commission would significantly ease entry barriers for new applicants, thereby encouraging more entrants and creating increased competition within Pennsylvania.
On January 2, 2014 the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission and Department of Environmental Protection (“Applicants”) filed an Application for Reargument of Robinson Township,1 in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, requesting reconsideration of the December 19, 2013 plurality opinion and remand to the Commonwealth Court for an evidentiary hearing and findings of fact. The Applicants argue that the plurality of the Court, in applying its newly coined Environmental Rights Amendment balancing test, adopted novel and unsupported findings of fact, contrary to established Supreme Court principle against taking on a fact finding role in its appellate jurisdiction. Robinson Township, et al., (“Townships”) answer that no disputed facts were necessary to the Court’s balancing test, and in the alternative, judicial estoppel precludes Applicants from requesting an evidentiary hearing because Applicants successfully argued in the Commonwealth Court that the Act’s constitutionality was purely a question of law. Applicants also request remand to have the Commonwealth Court determine whether the unconstitutional set back provisions are severable from the rest of Act 13.
On January 14, the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated certain rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) in its Open Internet Order (In re Preserving the Open Internet, 25 F.C.C.R. 17905 (2010)). The Court concluded that these rules imposed common carrier obligations on broadband internet providers, contrary to express limitations in the Communications Act, and were thus invalid. Verizon v. Federal Communications Commission, Dkt. No. 11-1355 (D.C. Cir. January 14, 2014) (“Verizon”).
Back in June 2011, we reported here that Congress’ brand new creation known as the “Federal Insurance Office” (FIO) had found its first Director in former Illinois regulator Michael McRaith. We cautiously anticipated then the issuance of the FIO’s initial report to Congress, scheduled for January, 2012, regarding the effectiveness of the state-based system of insurance regulation, as well as recommendations for changes and improvements. Industry stakeholders speculated then about what the establishment of this new federal bureaucracy might signal and what role the Feds might be looking to assume in their industry in the wake of scares about financial instabilities surrounding major U.S. insurers. The decades-old debates about federalism in the regulation of insurance were sparked anew and we waited for word from Director McRaith and his Office. And we waited. A year passed and we waited some more. Another year passed and the Feds rolled out their health insurance marketplace and that went…well, they did roll it out! You may have heard.
A government body subject to the Sunshine Act’s requirement of public decision-making is free to engage in non-public information gathering sessions, including private meetings with opposing parties in ongoing litigation in which a quorum of the agency members participate, so long as the actual decision-making, or “deliberation” takes place at a public meeting, the Supreme Court has ruled. In Smith v. Township of Richmond 34 MAP 2013, __A.3d __ (December 16, 2013), the Pennsylvania Supreme Court “allowed appeal on a limited basis to examine whether the Sunshine Act’s definition of ‘deliberations’ is implicated where… an agency meets with various parties – including opposing parties in litigation – to obtain information designed to help the agency make a more informed decision with regard to settling the ongoing litigation.” In finding no violation and permitting the fact-finding sessions, the Court affirmed the decisions of the Commonwealth Court and the trial court.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has issued an Emergency Proclamation temporarily waiving certain state and federal motor fuel carrier regulations for propane and heating oil transport carriers.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Held Key Provisions of Act 13 Unconstitutional under the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA)
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held key provisions of Act 13 unconstitutional under the Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA) of the Pennsylvania Constitution in a plurality opinion on December 19, 2013. Act 13 was designed to streamline regulation of the oil and gas industry by setting statewide zoning standards and administrative review procedures, which posed significant financial ramifications for non-compliant municipalities. The Court specifically held that the provisions mandating municipal zoning standards, such as permitting industrial oil and gas operations as a use of right in every zoning district throughout the state, are unconstitutional. These provisions were overturned because the legislature has abrogated constitutionally proscribed municipal duties to protect the rights guaranteed by the ERA. The Court also held that provisions of the act imposing a waiver process for mandatory setback from waterways, administered by DEP, also violated the ERA.
On November 25, 2013, Governor Tom Corbett signed Act 89 (the “Act”) into law. The Act, predominantly funded by an increase in motor fuel taxes, will provide needed upgrades to Pennsylvania’s transportation infrastructure.
The PUC’s deadline of December 12, 2013, to receive comments from interested parties on the current state of competitiveness of the natural gas market in Pennsylvania is drawing near.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Issues Proposed Rulemaking Order to Revise Evidentiary Criteria for Household Goods in Use Carrier Applicants
On September 12, 2013, The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“Commission”) issued a Proposed Rulemaking Order by which it is recommending revisions to the evidentiary criteria applicable to household goods in use (moving companies) Applicants when they seek authorization to provide service in Pennsylvania. The revisions recommended by the Commission would ease entry barriers for new Applicants, thereby promoting and encouraging increased competition within Pennsylvania. It is the Commission’s expectation that increased competition will lead to better prices and enhanced service quality and reliability for Pennsylvania consumers.
The Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) recently issued a Tentative Order in the matter of: The Use of Fixed Price Labels for Products With a Pass-Through Clause, Docket No. M-2013-2362961 (Tentative Order entered May 23, 2013), in which it requested interested parties to comment on what it views as an emerging problem: certain Electric Generation Suppliers (“EGS”) offering products labeled as “fixed price” when the products clearly are “variable price” products. Comments were filed June 24 and a PUC decision is expected soon.
The Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act (the “Act”) created the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund (the “Fund”) to provide clean-up and third party liability coverage for owners and operators of underground storage tanks (USTs). The claimant must meet certain requirements to recover remediation costs from the Fund. Specifically, the claimant must be current on all required fees under the Act.