Ever since its origin in 1907 as the Pennsylvania State Railroad Commission, the PUC’s mission has always been to balance the value that monopoly utilities bring to our state with the needs of its consumers. In 1907, it didn’t make sense for multiple railroads to build tracks along the same routes to serve the same markets. It was in the public interest to strike a balance by allowing a single company (a “utility”) to offer a monopoly service, in exchange for public oversight of rates and business practices.
Today, although that mission remains essentially unchanged, it has been neglected. The balance between consumers and utilities has been lost, and utilities (or companies, like Sunoco/ETP, that claim to be utilities) now control the decisions of the PUC.
Here is the mission statement of the PUC, as copied from its website:
Mission Statement: The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.
Clearly the PUC has strayed far from its mission. Let’s go through this mission statement, phrase by phrase, in the context of the Marnier East 2 pipeline:
- The PUC “balances the needs of consumers and utilities”: Setting aside, for the moment, the problem that neither Sunoco/ETP nor the Mariner East pipeline is a “utility” in any ordinary sense, it is obvious that the PUC has almost completely ignored the “needs of consumers” in its support of this project.
- The PUC “ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates”: Sunoco/ETP is making a mockery of the concept of “safe and reliable” in its construction practices, its routing of the pipeline, and the whole concept behind this pipeline. The PUC has done absolutely nothing to “ensure” safety.
- The PUC “protects the public interest”: In its support for this project, the PUC has ignored the interests of most of the public; it has instead protected the financial interests of Sunoco/ETP and the fracking industry.
- The PUC “educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices”: Far from educating and informing, the PUC (like its sister agency, the DEP) has not informed consumers about the harm this project is already causing, and has not warned them of the operational hazards if it is completed. On the contrary, it has defended Sunoco/ETP at every turn. If consumers had had an opportunity to make an “independent and informed” choice, this project would have been stopped before it ever started.
- The PUC “furthers economic development”. The pipeline project is providing hundreds of jobs, but they are almost all temporary, and primarily held by out-of-state workers. If the PUC really wanted to “further economic development”, it would remove its regulations that hinder the growth of the solar industry in Pennsylvania, which would provide steady, long-term employment for far more workers.
- The PUC “fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner”. If the PUC wanted to “foster new technologies”, it would remove Pennsylvania’s barriers to the growth of renewables. It would encourage technologies such as microgrids to make the power grid more resilient. And what could be farther from “environmentally sound” than this pipeline?
My request to the commissioners of the PUC: take another look at your mission statement. Take its objectives to heart, and start making decisions that align with it. You have lost the balance that your mission calls for and you are becoming a mere instrument of corporate greed.
It is time to return to your original mission. You can do better than this!
Readers, please let the PUC and the governor know how you feel about this subject. (The five PUC commissioners are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the senate.)