Media coalition argues for access to utility company's records

By Jim Boyle | May 29, 2014

A group of Pennsylvania media outlets filed a motion with the Commonwealth Court demanding access to documents the Pennsylvania Utility Commission used during a decision-making process that resulted in a settlement with PPL Utilities for its perceived favoritism of neighborhoods serviced during a winter storm in 2011.

According to a report from The Morning Call, attorneys representing the coalition said that the documents used by the regulatory commission to determine settlements with utility companies fall into the scope of the Right to Know Law.

The Morning Call and the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre sought access to the documents in fall 2013, but the PUC denied the requests. Pennsylvania's Office of Open Records ruled in favor of the newspapers, but the PUC and PPL Utilities appealed the decision to the Commonwealth Court.

The documents in question include an anonymous tip sent to the PUC that told the officials that utility crews working for PPL had serviced a neighborhood out of order of the established priority list during a winter storm in 2011. Following an investigation, PUC ordered PPL to pay a $60,000 settlement fee and to create a personnel plan that would prevent similar incidents in the future.

The Morning Call reports that the reasons why the diversion was made and to which neighborhood were not disclosed in the settlement. Part of the deal with the PUC included keeping documents detailing the incident out of the public domain.

The media coalition includes: The Morning Call; Civitas Media; Penn Live/The Patriot-News; Philadelphia Media Network, publisher of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News; The Associated Press; Pocono Record; Lancaster Newspaper Inc., publisher of the Lancaster New Era and The Intelligencer-Journal; Calkins Media; The Scranton Times; WNEP-TV; Reading Eagle Co.; and Times News of Lehighton.

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