City Council defends blocking PGW sale

City Council defends blocking PGW sale
Sam Newhouse

Despite criticism of City Council for announcing that they do not support the proposed sale of Philadelphia Gas Works to UIL Holdings without a public hearing or vote, Council members defended the decision.

“There was clearly not the desire among Council members to sell PGW. It was time to move on,” said City Councilman Bill Greenlee. “If there ever had come a public vote, I definitely would have voted against it.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke’s spokeswoman Jane Roh said in an email, “There is no bill that has been introduced to vote on.”
But Mayor Michael Nutter on Monday denounced the announcement without a public hearing or vote as “a total abdication of duty and responsibility” by City Council.
Political watchdog Committee of Seventy’s interim director Ellen Kaplan said in a statement that making the decision without a public vote or hearing “violates every principle of transparent and effective governance and was “disgraceful and cowardly.”
But City Councilman David Oh defended the move.

“I don’t know of any other way that it could have been handled,” Oh said. “Nobody introduced the bill, I think that’s a big sign. You have 17 members. I don’t know that anybody is convinced that it’s a good and sound and sustainable idea.”

“Personally, I didn’t feel the sale was solid, and I wasn’t introducing the bill,” he said.

Oh pointed out that after three years, UIL could have sold PGW to another company, or changed policies to increase profitability at Philadelphia taxpayers’ expense.

Meanwhile, as the U.S. is emerging as a dominant oil producer, there are more opportunities for manufacturing and foreign exports, he said.

“PGW is potentially a tremendously great asset,” he said.

City Councilman Jim Kenney agreed that the announcement without a prior vote was unusual, but said he had no opinion for or against the sale and that he was not part of Council leadership discussions leading to the decision.

“I don’t remember any issue of this size not coming to an up or down vote,” Kenney said. “But I don’t think there’s a big appetite in the council for the sale.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke announced Monday that City Council opposes selling PGW to Connecticut-based UIL Holdings for $1.86 billion, citing various concerns.

These included that the sale agreement with UIL contained no commitment to keep rates at “reasonably affordable levels” beyond three years, to maintain income-based assistance programs, no committment to accelerate cast iron main repacement, to a minimum number of PGW employees, to employee wages and benefits, to ensure or prioritize the hiring of Philadelphia residents, no plan to ensure equal employment opportunities for women, minorities and the disabled, and no committment by UIL to retain ownership and to maintain a local presence.

These concerns were not communicated as requests to UIL, Roh said in an email.

“The way this deal was structured is Council was asked to give an up or down vote on the sale agreement as is,” Roh wrote.

Clarke has also said that a resolution will be introduced at City Council’s Thursday session to schedule hearings, likely to start in December, to explore how to establish Philadelphia as a regional “energy hub.”

Other members of Council reached out to for this story for comment did not respond.
Click here to read City Council documents on their decision regarding the PGW sale and their review by Concentric Energy Advisors.