Power Play: Government Consensus Forming That Title 66, Section 1329 Must Be Amended. Will Big Water Wield Their Influence to Halt It?

HARRISBURG, PA — On Wednesday, May 26, local PA House Representatives John Lawrence (PA-13) and Leanne Krueger (PA-161) co-chaired a joint public hearing to discuss Title 66, Section 1329, Acquisitions.

One must understand PA legislative history to comprehend the potential impact of this hearing. In 2016, Pennsylvania lawmakers in Harrisburg passed a piece of legislation, Act 12 (attached to House Bill 1326), which added section 1329 to Title 66 of the Pennsylvania Statutes on Public Utilities. This legislation had the effect that municipal authorities, such as Chester Water Authority (CWA), no longer had to be in financial or operational distress to be purchased by private, for-profit companies. Despite having never been in distress in its 150+ year history, CWA became a target for a BIG WATER acquisition. In May 2017, Aqua PA (new name Essential Utilities) made an unsolicited bid to buy CWA. CWA’s board unanimously rejected that offer. CWA just celebrated the four-year anniversary of their rejection of the bid with Public Water Independence Day on May 22, 2021.

“Since the CWA Board’s May 2017 decision to reject the unsolicited bid, we have saved the ratepayers nearly $200 million dollars in comparison to Aqua’s current rates. At the time, we determined that there was no benefit to the ratepayers from the sale. If CWA was sold, rates would rise and there was serious concern that the public would lose access to the Octoraro Reservoir.  It was a lose-lose situation for our water ratepayers and the public,” says Cynthia Leitzell, Chair of the Board of CWA.

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On the heels of Public Water Independence Day, Rep. Lawrence and Rep. Krueger co-chaired the joint public hearing to discuss specifically acquisitions of municipal authorities who are not in distress. Based on the questioning and testimony of noted officials Tanya McCloskey from the Office of Consumer Advocate; Elizabeth Marx, executive director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project; Jeff Hines, former president and CEO of the York Water Company; and Nicole Whitaker, Upper Chichester Township Commissioner, there is growing governmental, public, and ratepayer opposition to Title 66, Section 1329 as it currently stands.

The only groups that approve of the law in its current form are those who have the most to gain financially from it. That was abundantly clear in the testimony of for-profit water company president, Marc Lucca of Aqua PA, and lobbyist Robert Powelson, president and CEO of the National Association of Water Companies. In their hearing testimonies, both advocated for keeping Title 66, Section 1329 as is, which means that the shareholders of these for-profit companies, many of whom are international, will make billions directly from the pockets of local water and wastewater ratepayers.

“A consensus is forming that Title 66, Section 1329 should be amended so it pertains only to distressed water systems,” noted Francis Catania, solicitor for CWA, “However there are powerful groups who see enormous profits and great rewards by devouring the natural, public resources of local municipal authorities. They will not be discouraged easily. Only through continued engagement by the public and ratepayers, who have everything to lose and nothing to gain from these acquisitions, will municipal water authorities such as CWA be saved.”

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For more information, go to savecwa.org.
Write to your elected officials HERE to SAVE CWA.

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