PA Public Utility Commission Grants Utility Status to Pipeline Company Giving it Eminent Domain Powers

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has voted to grant Laser Northeast Gathering, a natural gas pipeline company, status as a public utility. The decision will grant Laser the power to condemn private property by eminent domain. That is, Laser will have the power to run pipelines under people’s property even if they don’t want it.

The state Public Utility Commission intends to declare natural gas pipeline company Laser Northeast Gathering a public utility, giving it the power to condemn private property by eminent domain.

By a 3-2 vote, the commission tossed back to Administrative Law Judge Susan D. Colwell her recommendation to deny Laser’s application for a "certificate of public convenience," which would grant it utility status and the right to wield eminent domain.

The narrow majority of the commission disagreed with Judge Colwell’s arguments that the commission lacked the authority to regulate the activity and that Laser didn’t meet the definition of a public utility.

In a fiery dissent, Commissioner James Cawley warned of "grave implications for individual Pennsylvanians and their communities." He said his colleagues’ decision would upset the balance in easement negotiations, giving more power to pipeline companies.*

MDN’s opinion: This is a bad move by the PUC. Commissioner Cawley is right. Before you spend millions on a well, you should first make sure you’ll be able to run a gathering pipeline from the well to a larger pipeline. Don’t force a pipeline on someone who doesn’t want it!

*The Citizen’s Voice (May 20, 2011) – PUC gives nod to eminent domain power for pipeline company