The State - - Front Page - BY TOM BAR­TON tbar­[email protected]­

The PSC granted a re­quest to deny higher wa­ter and sewer rates to cover the le­gal costs of a util­ity that lost a pol­lu­tion case.

It won’t be much, but some Mid­lands and Upstate sewer cus­tomers will get some re­lief on their monthly bills.

Re­vers­ing it­self, the S.C. Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion on Wed­nes­day re­buked Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice for re­quest­ing that its cus­tomers foot the le­gal bill – through higher sewer rates – for a pol­lu­tion case that the util­ity lost.

“We agree with ORS that the com­pany should not be al­lowed to re­cover its lit­i­ga­tion ex­penses in this fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tion as the ratepay­ers de­rived no ben­e­fit from the ex­pen­di­ture,” the com­mis­sion wrote in its rul­ing.

That money would have gone to pay Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice’s le­gal bill for un­suc­cess­fully fight­ing a law­suit filed by the Con­ga­ree River­keeper over the util­ity’s re­lease of sewage into the lower Saluda River. The scenic wa­ter­way stretches be­tween Lake Mur­ray and down­town Columbia.

Carolina Wa­ter is a pri­vately owned util­ity that serves parts of Columbia, Rock Hill, An­der­son and other com­mu­ni­ties.

“Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice is re­view­ing the com­mis­sion’s di­rec­tives and will re­view the fi­nal or­der when it is is­sued by the com­mis­sion,” the util­ity said in a state­ment. “Caroli­naWater Ser­vice … is com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ste­ward­ship in the state.”

In May, com­mis­sion­ers ap­proved $2.9 mil­lion in higher wa­ter and sewer rates for Carolina Wa­ter to, in part, cover its le­gal costs in the pol­lu­tion case. The PSC also voted to al­low Carolina Wa­ter’s own­ers a 10.5 per­cent profit.

Reg­u­la­tory Staff chal­lenged that de­ci­sion, ar­gu­ing the com­mis­sion erred in pass­ing the le­gal costs on to ratepay­ers after the util­ity failed to com­ply with the law, was sued and then lost that suit.

“It was clearly neg­li­gent on (Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice’s) part to al­low the re­lease into the Saluda River,” Reg­u­la­tory Staff spokesman Ron Aiken said. “It’s not fair for ratepay­ers to have to pay for the com­pany to de­fend it­self against il­le­gal dis­charges.”

The util­ity sought to re­cover nearly $1 mil­lion in le­gal fees and costs in­curred in five le­gal ac­tions. Most of that money was spent de­fend­ing Carolina Wa­ter in the pol­lu­tion suit.


The law­suit al­leged that, for years, Carolina Wa­ter had al­lowed poorly treated sewage to drain into the river from its ag­ing In­ter­state 20 waste­water


Carolina Wa­ter lost the case and was as­sessed a $1.5 mil­lion fine for vi­o­lat­ing the Clean­Wa­ter Act and re­quired to close a dis­charge pipe from the I-20 plant.

Carolina Wa­ter con­tended the util­ity’s le­gal ex­penses were jus­ti­fied and could be re­paid by its cus­tomers over time. “(L)ike all busi­nesses, CWS will in­cur lit­i­ga­tion costs as­so­ci­ated with its busi­ness op­er­a­tions and should act to pro­tect it­self and its ratepay­ers against claims for li­a­bil­ity,” Caroli­naWater said in its re­sponse to Reg­u­la­tory Staff’s pe­ti­tion.

The PSC also re­duced the amount of sludge haul­ing ex­penses the util­ity could re­cover through rates, but de­ferred a de­ci­sion on le­gal ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with other dis­putes.

Over­all, com­mis­sion­ers ap­proved de­creas­ing the util­ity’s sewer ser­vice rev­enue by $111,990. That will mean a 68-cent-amonth de­crease on the av­er­age cus­tomer’s bill.

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