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The West Virginia Public Service Commission regulates prices, services, and operations of motor carriers and public utilities such as gas, electricity, telecommunications, water, and sewer. The three commissioners are appointed to six-year terms by the governor and approved by the state senate, and no more than two commissioners may be from the same political party. The governor appoints one of the commissioners as chair, who serves at the will and pleasure of the governor. The PSC finances its operations by an assessment on the revenues and property of the utilities and carriers it regulates. The legislature appropriates amounts from these funds for the use of the PSC.

The PSC was created by the legislature in 1913. Prior to that time, regulation of railroads and public utilities had been handled by the Board of Public Works, the State Road Commission, and the legislature itself. The need for an independent regulatory body had been made evident by the West Virginia Supreme Court ruling in the case of Coal & Coke Railway Company v. Conley and Avis (1910), which struck down maximum railroad transportation rates previously established by the legislature. The Supreme Court upheld the delegation of legislative rate-making powers to the PSC in United Fuel Gas Company v. PSC (1914), and later ruled that the functions of the PSC are ‘‘quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative.’’ In other words, the Commission functions like both a court and a legislature, establishing rules and interpreting and enforcing them.

The PSC originally had jurisdiction over the Workmen’s Compensation Fund as well as public utilities, railroads, and ferries. In 1915, the legislature amended the PSC law to remove Workmen’s Compensation, to reduce the number of commissioners from four to three, and to reduce their terms of office to six years.

The Commission’s primary work centered on the regulation of railroads during its early years. In 1935, the law was amended to give the PSC more control over utility expansion, construction, and self-dealing. In 1937, the PSC was given jurisdiction over motor carriers of goods and passengers. Following the relative decline of railroads after World War II and the expansion of electric, gas, and telephone services throughout the state, the Commission’s activities became more concerned with utility regulation. It no longer sets railroad rates. The advent of high energy prices and high inflation in the 1970s caused a tremendous increase in utility rate case activity.

Because of public outcry against ever-increasing utility rates and utility industry dissatisfaction with Commission procedures, in 1978 the legislature commissioned an independent study of the PSC’s structure and operation. This report led to passage of major changes in the PSC’s statute in 1979. The reorganization required by these amendments divided the technical and legal staff into advisory and advocacy functions and created a separate motor carrier division. Communications between advocacy staff and the decision-making sections of the PSC were discouraged. The reorganization also established the Consumer Advocate Division, with institutional safeguards to guarantee its independence. In 1986, a new division was created within the PSC to provide assistance to public water and wastewater providers.

In 2022, the PSC had an annual budget of more than $18 million.

This Article was written by Billy Jack Gregg

Last Revised on December 01, 2023

Cite This Article

Gregg, Billy Jack "Public Service Commission." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 01 December 2023. Web. 21 July 2024.


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