Pennsylvania State Senator Albert V. "Bud" Belan (D-West Mifflin) has disagreed with the findings of an internal investigative report by former state Attorney General Walter Cohen that exonerated Peoples Natural Gas Co. (PNG) from any responsibility for the alleged attack and rape of a utility customer by a private contractor hired to read gas meters.
As Belan points out, PNG requested and received an informal opinion from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission's law bureau in 1995, which defined "utility company personnel" to include private contractors who operate under the utilities' direct supervision and control, are appropriately trained, and carry proper identification. Further, the law bureau ruled that the utility would be answerable to the PUC for contractors' conduct.
"Based on that opinion, either [PNG] is accountable for the actions of its contractor, or the individuals who were employed to read meters were not 'utility company personnel' and thus ineligible for hire," Belan argues. He has suggested that the General Assembly investigate utility-initiated business arrangements that seek to avoid PUC regulation, break the accountability chain, and threaten customer security.
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Joseph F. Schuler, Jr. is associate editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES FORTNIGHTLY. Lori A. Burkhart is an associate legal editor.