Court ruling could alter way PSC issues policy

Judges say panel erred in `generic proceedings'

April 09, 2002|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Public Service Commission is reviewing a state Court of Appeals ruling handed down yesterday that could affect the way the agency issues regulatory policies that dictate utility practices and business operations.

In an opinion written by Judge Alan M. Wilner, the state's highest court reversed a Wicomico Circuit Court decision that affirmed the PSC order limiting links between utilities and their unregulated affiliates.

The PSC order, issued June 30, 2000, was immediately taken to court by 14 utilities that opposed the agency's restrictions on traditional gas and electric utilities' right to share brand names, personnel and assets with their unregulated affiliates.

Yesterday, the appeals court ruled that the PSC erred by issuing an order on the basis of "generic proceedings." Instead, the court stated, the PSC should have held formal proceedings with public notification, public response and legislative review of the directives to adopt regulations that affected all utilities across-the-board.

"It's not a substantive ruling," PSC General Counsel Susan Miller said. "The court is basically saying that we could do the exact same thing in a different way."

The ruling, however, could change the way the commission issues directives in future cases, Miller said. It could also force the PSC to revisit other cases to issue regulations instead of orders - a process that could take six months for each case.

"First off, I disagree with the ruling for a variety of reasons," said PSC Chairman Catherine I. Riley. "We will carefully analyze it to understand what they are saying. The world of orders and regulations often intertwine. We're a quasi-judicial body, and I can't imagine that you'd ask a court to issue regulations instead of an order.

"I would hope this [ruling] is very narrow. I think the court has us between a rock and a hard place."

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