Lawmaker seeks surcharge to pay for Pa. pipe replacement

    Industry experts warn that thousands of miles of natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania need to be replaced. Several recent deadly explosions have put more focus on replacing the decades-old cast iron pipes.

    In January, a gas pipeline explosion in Philadelphia killed a young utility worker. In February, a similar explosion in Allentown killed five people–including a 4-month-old baby.

    But pipeline replacement carries a big price tag–$15 billion dollars. Because that’s such a huge amount to charge ratepayers, utilities are moving slowly.

    Republican state Rep. Robert Godshall says he wants to speed up the process. He has proposed allowing gas companies to add a surcharge, instead of relying on rate hikes that must go through the lengthy regulatory process.

    “It makes it just easier for the companies,” said Godshall. “It saves a lot of money, not only for the companies but also the ratepayers.”

    Godshall, who said the state already allows the surcharge option with water pipes, said  something must be done about the deteriorating pipes that lie beneath houses and streets.

    “There is absolutely no give, and the cast iron has become corroded. You have water lines underneath, infrastructure underneath the gas lines or even above. And if the water line breaks, it undermines the gas line,” he said. “And you have a sag, and a sag in the pipe means a crack or a break.”

    But Philadelphia Consumer Advocate Lance Haver said a surcharge is not the answer.

    “In all fairness, it is a difficult issue. Because we have not funded our infrastructure, because we have this huge hidden deficit, it’s very difficult. What do we do about it now? But simply allowing a small person in a room to make that decision for all of us doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse,” said Haver.

    Haver said the state should set up an infrastructure improvement fund with taxpayer dollars. He said a combination of rate increases, and taxpayer-funded improvements would mean more residents would share the burden of fixing aging pipelines.

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