Bye. A Senate committee has introduced a bill to get rid of the PUC as part of a broader deregulatory effort

The Pennsylvania Senate advanced a bill Thursday that could significantly limit the regulatory powers of the Public Utility Commission in the interest of saving ratepayers money. It was one of several bills introduced in the House this week aimed at deregulating utilities and the energy producers that supply them.

Senate Bill 1174, passed on a bipartisan vote by the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensing Committee on Tuesday, would allow utilities to request a waiver of any law or regulation enforced by the PUC. While these companies would have to warn the PUC about potential safety and reliability issues resulting from circumventing the regulations, as written, the commission would only be required to consider the financial impact on ratepayers when making a decision.

Consumer rights and environmental protection advocates claim that the draft law is far too broad.

“I think the problem is that it seems like a really big hammer,” said Rob Altenburg, director of the Energy Center at PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group. “There are other ways to deal with the impact on payers.”

The bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Stefano (R-Fayette) passed the Consumer Protection and Occupational Licensing Committee, which he chairs, with a majority of Democrats voting against it.

This bill is not perfect, some stakeholders have expressed concerns, and I agree that we should work to address them as we move forward on this bill in the Senate,” Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), minority affairs committee chairwoman and only Democrat , which will vote in favor of the bill, said in an email. “But it helps further the conversation about how to find creative solutions to lower energy costs in Pennsylvania. This is important and that is why I voted for the bill.”

The Public Utility Commission regulates a wide range of public utilities, such as energy, gas, water, sewage, telecommunications, rail, and even taxis. Among other things, it enforces regulations requiring utility companies to notify customers before disconnecting services. The PUC prevents gas and electric companies from turning off service during the winter when doing so could result in customers losing heat. It requires energy companies to implement efficiency programs and ensure that a certain amount of their energy comes from renewable sources. The PUC also supervises the enforcement of the so-called the One Call Act, requiring utilities to mark subway lines to ensure homeowners can dig safely on their property.

Another bill, Senate Bill 85, passed the Senate Communications and Technology Committee on Tuesday and would require the PUC to waive a number of regulations affecting telecommunications companies. She received no support from Democrats on the committee.

The PUC is not the only regulator for many utilities. For example, the Department of Environmental Protection enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Department of Transportation issues permits to utility companies to place lines along highways.

Stefano, sponsor of Senate Bill 1174, released a statement saying: “C“Consumers continue to see their utility bills rise and we must find ways to reduce them.” His office also noted that utilities will have to submit reports on how they ensure the safety and reliability of utility services, which the PUC will have to take into account.

However, the bill’s language would require the PUC to “limit its consideration to the financial impacts of the specific rate class identified in the petition.”

“I just think there are all sorts of uncertainties involved [the bill] are not clear,” said Patrick Cicero, state consumer advocate. “All that aside, I don’t think this is a bill that would make for great public policy.”

Cicero also noted that because Pennsylvanians generally cannot choose utility companies, residents of different parts of the state may operate utility companies subject to different rules.

The bill will have to pass through the Senate Appropriations Committee and the broader Senate before moving to the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.

Along with bills moving through the Senate stripping the PUC of its regulatory powers, the Senate on Wednesday passed a separate bill that would reorganize the PA Energy Development Authority and give the shrunken board the power to waive regulations on novel energy projects.

It passed the Senate along party lines, with Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) saying it would likely be dead upon arrival in the House.

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