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PA Senate Ponders Bill to Give PUC Unlimited Authority

On April 30, 2024, the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee passed SB 1174, which was introduced by its Chairman, Senator Stefano. The bill is now awaiting third consideration in the Senate.  The Bill, if passed and signed into law, would allow the Public Utility Commission (“PUC”), without consideration of any other law, to grant a waiver of ANY statute over which it has any authority, including the Public Utility Code, the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act and others, so long as the waiver “enables the utility to reduce its ratepayer impact and operate in a more effective, efficient or economical manner.”  With those simple words the Bill would create a standard (more effective, efficient, or economical), that could arguably be met by any utility for just about any reason.  The practical impact would be that any requirement of the Public Utility Code would become optional. The PUC would have the authority to not enforce mandatory provisions, such as their requirements that rates be just and reasonable, or that rates don’t unreasonably discriminate, or more fundamentally that utilities not provide reasonably continuous service. And to make it happen, the PUC would have to do nothing, because if they did not act within 60 days of a utility petition asking for such a waiver, the request would become effective without any PUC action being required.

This is a far reaching and unwise bill, that would abdicate the General Assembly’s exclusive authority to pass legislation to the PUC.  Under SB 1174, the PUC would be free to waive whatever it chose to waive.  That the low bar for granting the waiver makes it even worse.  No agency should ever be authorized to allow itself to break free from the constraints that enacting legislation necessarily imposes. To do so is to delegate the authority to make law, since the ability waive a statute is the same as that of General Assembly to repeal legislation, even if it is more limited in scope.

The only comfort here is that this bill would violate the PA Constitution’s ( Article 3, Section 1) express assignment of the exclusive authority to legislate to the General Assembly – not to any agency.  

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