Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania's request for a rate increase was approved. I'm shocked! Its reason? It wants to implement “a distribution system improvement charge” (“Columbia Gas gets pipeline charge OK,” March 15 and TribLIVE.com).
Utilities are a protected class and don't play by the same rules as a private enterprise. To a private entity, improving a distribution system means buying new trucks, but the cost must come from its profit. Had Columbia been reinvesting its profits over the years to regularly maintain its aging infrastructure, it would not have found itself in this predicament. Why should Columbia expect its customers to inherit that burden?
The other gas companies won't be denied rate increases, either, and you can expect the same old same old. If they want a 15-percent increase, ask for 30 percent; the state Public Utility Commission will give them half. They get what they originally wanted and the PUC looks like it did something good. Sounds like a marriage made in heaven.
How does the Marcellus shale boom figure into this? It appears that the gas companies and drillers are the only ones benefiting. The boom should reduce natural gas prices because it is a natural resource that belongs to the residents of the commonwealth. If it's sold to another state, it should be taxed accordingly, and if it's exported to another country, it should be taxed significantly.
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