PSC orders less secrecy from WV American Water

The Public Service Commission issued an order yesterday in its general investigation into WV American Water's response to the 2014 Freedom spill. We've all been waiting for the PSC to decide what the scope of its investigation will be moving forward. Two months ago, the PSC held a hearing on potential overlap between its investigation and the issues that have been addressed by legislation (S.B. 373) passed in response to the spill, leading to concern that the PSC might be looking for an excuse to abandon the investigation. 

Yesterday's order doesn't answer that question. Instead, the order attempts to resolve - for the third time - a protracted battle over the confidentiality of certain documents, including the water company's emergency plan. The water company had filed confidential versions of those documents with the PSC back in 2014. In November 2014, the Commission ordered the company to make redacted versions available to the public, and to "use a light hand" in redacting the documents. The company submitted redacted, public versions of the documents. The Commission found that these documents withheld too much information from the public, noting that even "the 1-800 number for the Public Service Commission was inexplicably labeled as 'Highly Sensitive Confidential Information.'" The Commission ordered the water company to try again, and the water company filed slightly less redacted versions of the documents in January 2015.

 Thanks to the long delay in the investigation, the PSC is only now getting back to this issue. And, once again, the Commission found that the water company is withholding too much information from the public. Ruling on these documents for the third time, the Commission ordered the company to again file less redacted versions of the documents, "making available for public inspection much of the remaining portions designated by the Company as Confidential Information."

The PSC still has not yet ruled on what the scope of this investigation will be going forward. It can be dangerous to predict the future by reading PSC tea leaves too closely, but yesterday's order does make reference to future actions that the water company should take "in the course of this proceeding," suggesting that the PSC does not plan to drop its investigation entirely.