Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC), established in 1910, regulates gas, electric, telephone, water, and sewage disposal companies, as well as electricity suppliers, construction of a generating station and some common carriers engaged in the transportation for hire, among other activities.
The PSC membership consists of five appointed Commissioners who make decisions about the subject matter described above in a quasi-judicial court proceeding. Among its responsibilities, the PSC issues Certificates for Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), which provide authority for construction or modification of new generating stations or highvoltage transmission lines., This process is exceedingly opaque in its administration and as a result is unnecessarily difficult for members of stakeholder communities to navigate. Over the years, the PSC has continually approved CPCN requests from utility companies throughout Maryland in opposition to residents and neighbors living near these facilities, and a growing chorus of public health professionals, and environmental advocates.
Our top of the concerns about the PSC process are:
1. Lack of transparency in the process, with little notice to the community and confusing website.
2. Lack of information about public health impacts of energy infrastructure on nearby residents before issuing a CPCN.
In a well-known matter, Order Number 87243 to issue a certification to Mattawoman Energy, LLC to construct a gas-powered energy facility in Prince George’s County, the PSC noted the moral injustice of otherwise legal action, stating “[i]t is unfortunate for Brandywine that it is a suitable and legally available area for proposed power plant projects. If a proposed plant to be sited in Brandywine meets all legal requirements (at all governmental levels), the fact that other plants are located nearby is not a legal restriction to another one being built. This is true even though the negative impacts of a plant fall most severely upon Brandywine while the benefits are distributed across a much larger geographic area.”
In response, Earthjustice filed a complaint on behalf of the Brandywine TB Southern Region Neighborhood Coalition and the Patuxent Riverkeeper, arguing that the CPCN violated Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because it disproportionately subjected the black residents of Brandywine to air pollution and other negative impacts based on their race. The complaint went forward under the rationale that if a government entity, charged explicitly with serving the public interest through a commitment to diversity, mutual respect, and ethical conduct, makes its decision based on an illegal premises, it is time to take action.
The Mattawoman power plant is a blatant and visible example of the need for timely citizen participation and enhanced public health protections in the PSC process. There are ongoing examples of the harmful impacts of PSC proceedings without notice and health considerations impacting residents throughout the state of Maryland.
In 2018, we are supporting two pieces of legislation to address these conflicts:
1. Modernize the public notification process from the PSC by requiring notice via multiple forms of print and social media for all natural gas infrastructure (including at minimum: pipelines, compressor stations, underground storage tanks, power plants, liquefaction facilities, and export facilities) at the time of first contact, from the applicant with an intent to file, and keeping this record as a searchable item on the PSC website in an easily accessible portal.
2. Requirement of a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on proposed natural gas infrastructure development project outlined in a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN), including any major modifications to existing projects.
There have been notable attempts to modernize the PSC process, including 2016’s SB 1069, which includes updates to the types of communication, largely through a local government entity rather than direct communication with residents, and unfortunately only applies to certain types of infrastructure.
While the HIA requirement is new for the PSC, it is a vetted and widely used tool in other parallel policy applications.
Full implementation of these proposals would go a long way in improving the PSC processes to protect Marylanders’ safety, health and well-being.