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Pa. court ruling could upend water privatization deals

Plus, a deadly Western Pa. house explosion.

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Fatal house explosion, revenue loss, budget deals, probation law fix, and disappearing lanternflies. Happy Monday.

A state commission should not have greenlit the sale of a municipal sewer system to a private company because of the deal’s repercussions on customers, a court recently found — a ruling that has the potential to put the brakes on water and sewage privatization in Pennsylvania. 

The decision challenges six years of precedent in favor of water consolidation that critics contend has led to customers overpaying tens of millions of dollars on their bills.

“I think this case represents a significant win for consumers in Pennsylvania,” said Patrick Cicero, the state’s appointed consumer advocate who filed the challenge, “because it provides a roadmap that is unequivocally clear that the Public Utility Commission has to do a fact-based scrutiny of these cases.”

Read Spotlight PA’s full report: How a recent court ruling could put the brakes on water and sewer privatization in Pennsylvania.

THE CONTEXT: The Public Utility Commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate that regulates and approves rates for hundreds of companies that provide electricity, water, gas, and telephone services, among others, to millions of Pennsylvanians.

The panel in July 2022 gave the go-ahead for Aqua, a private-owned wastewater company, to acquire the sewer system of East Whiteland Township for just under $55 million.

Commonwealth Court recently rejected the deal, finding that the “aspirational statements of Aqua … are not substantial enough to outweigh the known harms of this proposed transaction.”

An Aqua spokesperson told Spotlight PA that the company, the township, and the commission plan “to request a rehearing of the Commonwealth Court’s decision.”

Already, people in Towamencin, Montgomery County, are using the ruling to argue a pending sewer sale there should be canceled.


"We have shown that our 'GSD' attitude in state government, 'Get Stuff Done,' is infectious. It's working, and we're only beginning.”

Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro reflects on his first months in office during a sit-down with WGAL
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
We've been challenged to raise $25,000 by 11:59 p.m. Saturday to unlock a HUGE $25,000 matching gift. That means your contribution will be DOUBLED. Help sustain Spotlight PA's vital reporting for the remainder of 2023 now.

Thank you to the roughly 240 people who have given so far, including Nan W., who said, "You are doing such important work in these polarized times." Join Nan and make a tax-deductible gift in support of Spotlight PA now »
» Pennsylvania’s former First Lady Ellen Casey died Friday at 91, via Penn Capital-Star.

» Gov. Josh Shapiro says state department will ensure a fair, secure 2024 election, via WGAL.
» U.S. Senate prospect Dave McCormick will share stage with GOP operative tied to fake elector scheme, via Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

» Working Families Party candidate Jarrett Smith removed from ballot for Philadelphia city commissioner, via The Inquirer.

» Gov. Josh Shapiro announces universal free breakfast for Pennsylvania public schools, via WBNG.

A shot of Moraine State Park via Kimberly D. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

a bridge above a small section of a lake surrounded by green trees
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.DEADLY EXPLOSION: Relief efforts were underway Sunday morning in Plum following a fatal house explosion that left five people dead, TribLIVE reports. Construction crews worked to board up damaged homes’ windows and doors while emergency crews searched through debris as an investigation continues into the cause of the explosion. Donations of water and food poured in to help the victims affected by the tragedy.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.MISSED REVENUE: Pennsylvania has lost an estimated $1 billion from its one-year hold on participating in a climate program championed by former Gov. Tom Wolf, StateImpact Pennsylvania reports. The missed revenue from joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) could have been used to boost clean energy programs to address climate change. During his campaign, now Gov. Josh Shapiro did not commit to staying in RGGI; more recently he’s convened a secretive working group to explore the issue

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.BUDGET STRATEGIES: In order to get most of the state budget over the finish line, Gov. Josh Shapiro made promises to top Republicans including a vow to “improve the efficiency” of a state charter school oversight board. The Inquirer (paywall) breaks down how Shapiro got the main state budget bill passed after a grueling impasse, and what lies ahead for the governor.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.REFORM BILL: Justice reform groups argue a bill awaiting a state House vote would further complicate Pennsylvania’s probation rules and lead to more people being sentenced to jail terms. As Spotlight PA previously reported, the effort to fix the outdated law stemmed from Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill’s probation violation sentencing in 2018.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.GOODBYE, LANTERNFLIES? Spotted lanternflies infiltrated every corner of Pennsylvania, but it looks like the infestation may have reached its peak and the plant-killing species may be disappearing. ABC27 asked experts for their input on if the bug is declining and why that may be happening. One reason could be lanternflies do not live for long.
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
SEWER DISPUTE: Lock Haven City Council is weighing in who should oversee its water system, WPSU reports, including a potential joint authority with Castanea and Wayne Townships. 

LAKE POLLUTION: Pollutants from a shuttered Erie Coke site were found to have contaminated the sediments along Lake Erie’s shoreline, according to a report from the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

CONVERSION BAN: York City Council is considering a ban on conversion therapy. The practice would be classified as an offense, and the city’s Human Relations Commission would be allowed to investigate complaints made against providers.

HOMETOWN MAKEOVER: Billy Porter lent a helping hand to his native Pittsburgh by providing a proposal on how to transform the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum a Homewood landmark, into a community facility, via WESA.

HOME TEAM: A team from Media will represent Pennsylvania in the Little League World Series. “This team is tough as nails,” manager Tom Bradley told PennLive. 

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Festooned

Congrats to our weekly winner: John E.

Congrats to our daily winners: Jon W., Don H.., Kimberly D., Stacy S., Barbara F., Wendy A., Richard A., Jane R,, Kim C., Karen W., Dennis M., Susan N., Cameron T., Doug W., Beth H., Tom M., and William Z.
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