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Trib editorial: New PUC oversight must deliver for ratepayers

| Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017, 8:55 p.m.

Local control and less bureaucracy usually are preferable. But the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's wretched condition makes it understandable that the state House voted 189-5 and the Senate voted 49-0 to impose state Public Utility Commission oversight on the PWSA.

The PUC oversees more than 130 private, investor-owned water systems. It lacks jurisdiction over municipal authorities like the PWSA, but does oversee the municipally-owned Philadelphia Gas Works under state legislation passed in 1999. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, and Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Carrick, co-sponsors of the PWSA bill, which Gov. Tom Wolf indicated he'd sign, cited that 1999 bill as precedent for making another exception to the PUC's usual purview.

The PWSA just handed ratepayers — blameless for its woes — three-year rate hikes totaling 56 percent. This bill requires PUC approval for PWSA rate hikes. It gives ratepayers another forum for complaints. And it gives the PWSA six months to submit a plan to the PUC for improving infrastructure and complying with Public Utility Code requirements.

As Mr. Turzai said after the bill's House passage, the PWSA “needs to be held to the same standards as the private sector.”

PWSA water quality, service, governance and finances have failed ratepayers for too long. Now, they'll find out whether PUC oversight — which Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and PWSA leaders say they welcome — can deliver real improvements.

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