The Pennsylvania (PA) Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision on August 20 in PPL Electric Utilities Corp. v. City of Lancaster, invalidating a municipality’s efforts to impose annual fees on utilities to occupy public rights-of-way and adopt inspection, supervision, and enforcement measures underpinning those fees. The PA Supreme Court affirmed that the Public Utility Code (Code) and the authority of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) to apply and enforce the Code preempt the field on all matters that relate to the regulation of public utilities in the commonwealth. In doing so, the court upheld the longstanding principle that public utilities should be regulated by one statewide agency, namely the PUC.
The litigation culminating in the PA Supreme Court’s decision arose from the 2013 enactment of a local ordinance that implemented a comprehensive program for management of municipal rights-of-way. The key provision of the ordinance at issue authorized the City of Lancaster (City) to impose perpetual, annual occupancy fees on utilities for their presence in municipal rights-of-way. The ordinance also included provisions purporting to grant the City authority to inspect public utility facilities located in the right-of-way, order the relocation of such facilities, and enforce the Code and the ordinance itself.