CCAN Statement: Hogan-Appointed PSC Members Approve AltaGas Merger That Supports Governor’s Fracked-Gas Expansion While Harming Consumers
The Chair of the PSC Dissents in the Commission’s Controversial 4-1 Vote, Saying Deal Creates “Impermissible Financial Risk” for Consumers and Ignores Grave Environmental Concerns
BALTIMORE, MD — The Maryland Public Service Commission approved a harmful merger today between Canadian company AltaGas and local utility Washington Gas that opens Maryland’s doors to large amounts of fracked gas from neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia and threatens Maryland’s progress on climate. A main goal of the merger and related settlement commitments is to “kick-start” a natural gas expansion across Maryland. As scientists confirm that fracked gas is essentially as harmful to the climate as coal, the PSC’s approval of the Hogan Administration’s merger terms sets the state back in its effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions and move toward clean energy.
PSC Chair Kevin Hughes blasted the 4-1 decision in an unusually sharp dissenting note. Hughes warned of both immediate and long-term economic harm from the deal, including the likely downgrading of WGL’s credit rating. WGL is the parent company of Washington Gas. Hughes also criticized the four Hogan-appointed commissioners for ignoring environmental advocates who submitted comments warning that the settlement was “contrary to the State’s policy on greenhouse gas reduction and its commitment to clean energy.”
The merger agreement opens the door to AltaGas spending $70 million to promote pipeline construction and other fracked-gas infrastructure in the state with the possibility of charging the full cost to ratepayers. Additionally, AltaGas is mandated to fulfill a settlement pledge with the Hogan Administration to put $33 million into a fund to be administered by the state of Maryland to assist additional gas companies with the construction of more fracked-gas pipelines across Maryland.
In March, CCAN and 15 other Maryland-based groups filed formal comments with the Public Service Commission arguing that instead of kick-starting a natural gas expansion throughout Maryland — which runs contrary to Maryland’s commitment to clean energy and greenhouse gas reductions, puts public health and safety at risk, and exposes the state to litigation — the PSC should instead redirect those funds to fixing methane leaks in the state. The letter described the failures of Maryland’s current leak-detection program and urged the PSC to direct funds to fixing the Maryland’s existing program or to funding a new program.
The Hogan-appointed commissioners did nothing to address the commenters’ concerns. The commissioners absurdly stated that the environmental comments could not be addressed in the PSC proceeding. The commissioners claimed that the comments were submitted after the official record was closed even though environmental groups submitted them during the established comment period for the settlement agreement. As Chairman Hughes pointedly noted in his dissent: “Given that the [Hogan Administration’s] gas expansion proposal was made late in the proceedings, and after the close of the Commission’s initial evidentiary hearings, the majority should have considered and addressed these environmental concerns in the context of the public interest test.”
In response, Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, issued the following statement:
“This merger is a terrible deal for Marylanders’ pocketbooks and for climate change policy. Spearheaded by the Hogan Administration, the merger mandates that $33 million be invested in fracked-gas pipelines and combustion throughout Maryland. And another $70 million in fracked-gas investments could be charged to consumers down the road, per the Governor’s wish. Almost exactly a year ago, Hogan signed a ban on fracking for gas in Maryland, a move that was supported by a strong majority of Maryland residents. Marylanders know that gas fracked in Pennsylvania is just as devastating to public health, the environment, and the climate as gas fracked in Maryland. Today, the Hogan Administration has kicked the doors down for more fracked-gas infrastructure and gas combustion all across Maryland.”
Denise Robbins, Communications Director, 608-620-8819, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Tidwell, Director, 240-460-5838, email@example.com
Anne Havemann, General Counsel, 202-997-2466, firstname.lastname@example.org