History of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia

The Public Service Commission of West Virginia was created by the Legislature in 1913. Prior to that time, the economic regulation of railroads was handled by the Legislature. 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 Commission in United Fuel Gas Company v. PSC (1914), and later ruled that the functions of the Public Service Commission are ‘‘quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative.’’ In other words, the Commission has both judicial and legislative duties and functions. Since its inception, the Commission has established rules and interpreted and enforced them.

During its early years, the Commission’s primary work centered on the regulation of railroad, telephone, gas and electric companies. In 1937, the Commission was given jurisdiction over motor carriers transporting goods and passengers over the State’s highways. Following the relative decline of railroads after World War II and Federal legislation, the Commission’s regulation of railroads declined significantly. 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 Commission’s structure and operation. This report led to passage of major legislation in 1979. The reorganization required by these amendments divided the technical and legal staff into advisory and advocacy functions and led to changes in the structure of the agency. Communication between advocacy staff and the decision-making sections of the Commission were discouraged. The reorganization also established the Consumer Advocate Division that, by statute, is required to be financially and administratively independent of the Commission. In 1986, the Legislature directed the creation of a new division within the Commission to provide assistance to public water and wastewater providers.

Today, the Commission supervises, regulates and, where appropriate, investigates the rates, service, operations, acts and practices, affiliated transactions and other activities of West Virginia utilities. It also regulates certain common and contract motor carriers of passengers and property within West Virginia. The Commission is supported in its work by a staff of approximately 245 employees, including many professionals, such as lawyers, engineers, economists, accountants and skilled specialists to assist it in the performance of its statutory duties.

 

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