PA Public Utilities Commission

(For correspondents’ job titles, please see the “Who’s Who” section at the Right-to-Know page.)

October 23, 2012 – Mark Whitfield Email to Leif Jensen, Ron Deck and Elizabeth Goreham

“…Columbia Gas is regulated by the PUC. As a franchised public utility, the Borough must accommodate any infrastructure they desire to place within our rights-of-way, and they simply need to follow our right-of-way ordinance with regards to placement of lines. The Borough CANNOT dictate to Columbia where or where not to install lines…My authority on this project is limited to ensuring Borough ordinances are followed with regards to the use of our rights-of-way. …The appropriate agency to take a stance against Columbia Gas is the Public Utility Commission. They are the ones that decide what is safe in terms of installation process and the protection of citizens. The Borough cannot supersede the PUC….Columbia Gas is a PUC regulated company.  The PUC regulates installation, oversees safety procedures and maintenance, and sets rates.  The Borough cannot supersede the PUC authority, and cannot deny Columbia Gas access to our rights-of-way. While Penn State will be completing the gas conversion work at the power plant, the installation and supply of gas comes under the purview of Columbia Gas…If you feel the necessity to pursue your concerns, PSU and the PUC would be the two appropriate agencies to address.”

March 15, 2013 – A.J. Sulkowski Email to Amy Kerner:

“…since this will most likely be considered a transmission class pipe line the PUC could request Columbia to di[g] up a section to verify the wall thickness with in a few years. I am meeting with the PUC on Tuesday [March 19] and will try to address this issue by testing the pipe at a higher pressure that should make allow it to have a waiver of this policy for 10-15 years. I will let you know after the meeting with the PUC. I just want to be up front about everything!!”

March 18, 2013 – Mark Whitfield Email to Resident:

“Borough Council approval is not required.” Paraphrase – PUC regulates gas pipelines. Columbia Gas has not submitted an application yet.

March 18, 2013 – Permit Application to Borough of State College under Ordinance 2005:

3.18.13 Permit Application

March 19, 2013 – Katherine Watt Email to Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission General Inquiries:

“I’m looking for information about PUC’s involvement – as permitter, notice provider and other legal roles – in a plan to install a 10″ 400 psi natural gas pipeline through residential neighborhoods in State College PA, supplying gas to the PSU West power plant. Having trouble locating information about this project and the approval process used. Thanks!”

March 21, 2013 – Tom Fountaine Email to Peter Morris and Mark Whitfield:

“Terry Williams and I discussed the PUC law and how it may or may not affect the Borough’s ability to regulate this project.  Terry will be reviewing the statute and we will let Council know what the Borough can or cannot do with respect to this project.

The PUC is reviewing this project.  As we understand their review, they are in the process of having a team of 6 professionals review the project to determine if it in compliance with state and federal regulations.  We have not seen the report from the PUC as of yet, but I expect that it will be available.

Borough staff is also in the process of contracting with an independent 3rd part engineer with expertise in gas line design and construction. Our goal is to have the independent review complete before the April 1st meeting.

The Borough Engineer is currently reviewing the Right-of-Way permit application filed by Columbia Gas for this project to determine if the project is in compliance with the standards that are established by the Borough’s Right-of-Way ordinance.

Columbia has been notified that a permit will not be issued until April 2nd at the earliest, and then only if the project is in conformance with the Borough ordinance. I  will keep Council apprised on these issues throughout this week and next week.”

March 22, 2013 – Jennifer Kocher Email to Katherine Watt:

“The PUC does not site any underground public utility facilities — we only have jurisdiction over the siting of high voltage aerial electric lines. That means we do not have any filings pertaining the route of the pipeline in State College. Our jurisdiction when it comes to natural gas pipelines is limited to safety inspections and the safety of construction and operation of the pipeline. Companies are required to notify the PUC at least 30 days in advance of beginning construction on a major project (cost greater than $300,000). We received notification from Columbia of the project in State College on Feb. 26, 2013, that had a construction start date of April 1, 2013.”

March 22, 2013 – Councilman Peter Morris Email to Resident:

“I have been reading the Highlands list messages about the pipeline and have learned a lot.
 Yesterday, I talked to [a resident] about a conversation [the resident] had with Bob Young, who is legal counsel for the PUC in Harrisburg. I then called Mr. Young myself and had a long conversation about the legal situation.

In summary, I was wrong in thinking that the PUC had authority over whether the gas pipeline can be built. Columbia Gas has a right to lay pipe under public rights of way but this right is subject to “reasonable” restrictions imposed by municipalities. Of course, the definition of “reasonable” is ultimately up to the courts…”

March 26, 2013 – Highlands Resident to Highlands Civic Association List-serve, forwarded by Carl Hess to Tom Fountaine and Mark Whitfield; then forwarded by Mark Whitfield to Rob Cooper, Russ Bedell, Jim Albitz and AJ Sulkowski:

“…Columbia gas’ right of way seems to end any sane discussion. This is despite the fact that the US [Code of Federal Regulations] has a specific formula that says that the potential impact radius (PIR), which is the radius around the rupture where there will be significant danger to public safety, would be 165 feet. Given the fact that Columbia Gas’ easement is only the street, how can the PIR exceed the right of way by such a large factor and still be considered reasonable?”

March 27, 2013 – Jim Albitz Email to Mark Whitfield and Tom Fountaine:

“…The calculation for PIR shown would be correct for a 12” diameter, 400 psig pipeline.  I did confirm with Columbia Gas that, in their opinion, PIR doesn’t apply because it is a distribution pipeline.  This stems from the wording in the code. The argument is semantics. The intent of the calculation still applies…

…With regard to the PUC, the pipeline proposal and design was reviewed with 6 members of the PUC in a formal presentation. No issues were raised by the PUC with the plan. In addition, as I suspected, there will be numerous inspections by the PUC during construction. So, though no formal permit is issued as a piece of paper, all the proper review has taken place…”

April 22, 2013 – State College Resident Reports on Phone Conversation with Bob Young, PUC Legal Counsel:

  1. “Today I called Bob Young from the PUC (717-787-4945) with the question if the notice given [by Columbia Gas] was for a distribution line or transmission line. He told me that he was not allowed to tell me. He said that Paul Metro [Chief of the Gas Safety Division of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission] was looking into the definition of this particular line in our town because it effects where it can be burried.
  2. “I just talked with Bob Young too. He says that he simply doesn’t have access to the information. He says that some of the confusion stems from the fact that the Columbia Gas corporation that we are dealing with is a distribution company. The transmission lines are typically built by another Nisource entity with a similar name. Again, he referred me to Paul Metro: 717-787-1063.”
  3. “Bob Young told me he was going to warn Metro to be careful about what he revealed under danger of being fired.”

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One thought on “PA Public Utilities Commission

  1. By October 2012 the battle plan (such as it was) seems to have already been drawn. Mark Whitfield states in his Oct 23, 2012 email, “The Borough CANNOT dictate to Columbia where or where not to install lines…The Borough cannot supersede the PUC…Columbia Gas is a PUC regulated company…The Borough cannot supersede the PUC authority, and cannot deny Columbia Gas access to our rights-of-way…”
    These sound like legal opinions. Even if Whitfield was legally qualified to take this opinion, it certainly doesn’t appear he’s fighting in our best interest. Every legal opinion has at least one opposing opinion, and any employee of the Borough should be taking the opinion that the Borough does indeed retain full right and authority to fight for the safety of it’s citizens until proven otherwise in court. Why take Columbia’s side from the outset? And who influenced Mark Whitfield to take the pro-Columbia position? Did he take the pro-Columbia position with full understanding of the energy density of the transmission line? Or, assuming the safety issue was unimpressive enough for Mr. Whitfield to put on the brakes on behalf of the residents, what about the long-term management costs?

    Granted, I may be taking this bit of email out of context, and I welcome correction, but given just this small view into the correspondence, my present opinion is that both the safety and financial interests of the residents have been superseded, but superseded by what remains to be seen.

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