HMS Legal Blog

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 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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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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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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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 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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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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New Federal Insurance Office gets a Director, but will it get regulatory authority?

 

Michael McRaith officially began his new job earlier this month as the first Director of the Federal Insurance Office (FIO or Office) after serving for the past six years as Director of the Department of Insurance in President Obama’s home state of Illinois.  The FIO was established by the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010 as an office within the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and represents a part of the Congressional response to concerns about the financial stability of certain large domestic insurers and their subsequent taxpayer bailouts in 2008 and 2009.  Director McRaith will report to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

At this time the FIO has only an advisory role and monitoring authority over the business of insurance, while regulatory authority remains vested at the state level.  However, the establishment of the Office has caused a great deal of speculation, both within the industry and among state regulators, regarding whether it represents a significant first step towards shifting insurance regulation to the federal level in the future.

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PUC en banc Hearing: A Resounding Success

The PA PUC’s recent public hearing to explore the future of the competitive electricity markets in Pennsylvania was no less than a resounding success according to Chairman Robert Powelson of the Commission.

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PA PUC ENTERS WRITTEN DECISION IN HMS’LASER MARCELLUS PIPELINE APPLICATION CASE

On June 4, 2011, the PUC reduced its majority motion to a written order and has remanded the case to an Administrative Law Judge for a ruling on whether the service and terms of the partial settlement are in the public interest.  The Order essentially follows Commissioner Wayne E. Gardner’s Motion, which was joined by Chairman Robert F. Powelson and Vice-Chairman John F. Coleman, Jr. at the May 19, 2011 public meeting.  It accepted the position of Laser and other parties, such as the PUC’s Office of Trial Staff, that the service proposed by Laser will be public utility service because it will be open to any member of the public requiring service to the extent of capacity.

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PUC finds that Laser Northeast’s gas gathering service in the Marcellus Shale play is public utility service

On May 19, 2011, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC”) voted 3-2 to approve a motion by Commissioner Wayne E. Gardner finding that Laser Northeast Gathering Company’s (“Laser”) proposed natural gas pipeline gathering service in Pennsylvania is a public utility service.

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Former Insurance Department Counsel joins firm

Christopher KnightHawke McKeon and Sniscak LLP, is pleased to announce the expansion of its insurance regulatory practice, with Christopher J. Knight joining the firm as Of Counsel.

Chris spent nearly nine years as Counsel for the Pennsylvania Insurance Department as a member of the Governor’s Office of General Counsel, and will now use that experience and knowledge in his representation of insurance companies, producer licensees and other insurance-entity clients in regulatory, licensing and government compliance matters and related litigation.

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PUC Launches Investigation of Pennsylvania’s Retail Electricity Market

In a 4 to 1 vote, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission “officially launch[ed] the investigation of the competitiveness of the retail electric market with the goal of making recommendations for improvements to ensure a properly functioning and workably competitive retail electric market.”

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