PUBLIC UTILITY COMMISSION

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission issued a final rulemaking order for marketing and sales practices used by electric generation suppliers and natural gas suppliers.

It also established interim guidelines on standards for changing a customer’s electricity supplier.

The PUC, on a 5-0 vote, approved regulations recommending best practices for direct, door-to-door, marketing, telemarketing and sales. The regulations will apply to both electric generation and natural gas suppliers, and to anyone working for them.

The PUC issued a statement observing that more electric generation and natural gas suppliers are entering the state’s retail electric and natural gas supply markets. It added in the same statement that suppliers are expected to conduct business in accordance with the regulations, so that their sales and marketing activities do not call into question the fairness and integrity of the competitive market.

COAL MINES

Governor Tom Corbett signed legislation, HB 1813, that will permit coal mining companies to secure financial aid to help obtain bonding for new mines.

The sponsor of the legislation, state Representative Mike Tobash, R-Schuylkill, said the new law complements the original intent of the Land Reclamation Financial Guarantees Fund: to spur mine reclamation.

“Ninety percent of new mines take place in areas previously mined,” Tobash said. “Without an active industry to reclaim the old mines, we’re looking at $10,000 an acre to reclaim the land. The new operations can provide jobs but also reclaim the land.”

The law amends Pennsylvania regulations on surface mining conservation and reclamation. It also provides funding for remediating acid mine discharges.

“The courts have ordered the clean-up of these sites, but we have no dedicated funds,” Tobash said. “This will give us that.”

POLLUTION WARNINGS

A month-old policy to issue warnings of water pollution from oil and gas wells from Harrisburg rather than regional offices of the Department of Environmental Protection is not delaying public notification, a Department of Environmental Protection official said.

“Landowners will be notified all along the way about the testing and final results of our investigations,” said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday.

A coalition of environmental groups fears the change in policy will result in delays.

“When water supplies are polluted, the public should be warned immediately so affected residents can take steps to protect themselves. They should not have to wait until after the news has passed through several layers of bureaucracy and political interference,” said Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney at the environmental law organization Earthjustice, one of the groups asking the Corbett administration to change its policies.

The state’s Oil and Gas Act requires the DEP to investigate any signs of contamination from oil and gas drilling.

Sunday said that three regional DEP offices handle the testing and keep landowners apprised of the results.

“The results of the final determination will come from DEP senior management,” Sunday said. “But that doesn’t mean that any notification will be delayed.”

UNEMPLOYMENT

The state Department of Labor and Industry reported that Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percent, to 8.2 percent, from August to September. At the same time, the number of people working was up 23,000, for a total of 5.974 million.

“What accounts for the apparent discrepancy is that we have more people actively looking for work than before,” Labor Department spokesman Christopher Manlove said. “When they are actively looking but not finding work they are considered unemployed.”

For the first time since October 2006, the Pennsylvania unemployment rate has risen above the national level, with September’s rate hitting 8.2 percent, or four-tenths of a percentage point above the national rate of 7.8 percent.

An analyst with Moody’s Analytics said the numbers could actually be a good sign.

“More people looking for work typically means they are optimistic about finding work,” said Ryan Sweet of Moody’s.

CASH GRANTS

Act 80, which eliminated state General Assistance cash grants, violates the constitution because of the way it made its way through the legislative process, according to Greg Heller, lead attorney for three low-income Pennsylvanians with disabilities who challenged the measure.

Heller argued before Commonwealth Court Judge Keith Quigley that Act 80 violates the Pennsylvania Constitution’s “single subject” rule.

But state Deputy General Counsel Linda C. Barrett said all of the subjects in Act 80 deal with aspects of the state Public Welfare Code.

“It is our position that Act 80’s amendments to the Public Welfare Code do address a single unifying purpose, and that all provisions of Act 80 are entirely germane to the single subject, which is public assistance benefits and funding for human services programs,” Barrett said.