South Carolina regulators reversed their decision earlier this year and ruled a Midlands water treatment company could not charge customers for legal fees after losing a pollution lawsuit.
The Public Service Commission ruled this week that Carolina Water Service could no longer pass on its court costs to customers since it lost the case. Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler, who filed the lawsuit which led to the expenses, said the company’s shareholders should have to finance $436,000 in legal expenses since Carolina Water was guilty of pollution violations.
“If you let a polluter force their customers to pay, it really takes away the deterrent effect of those citizen enforcement cases like the one that we brought,” Stangler said.
The court fees stemmed from a serious of legal actions against Carolina Water by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and Congaree Riverkeeper. A judge ordered the utility to pay $1.5 million over wastewater violations at its Interstate 20 treatment plant that led to repeated sewage discharges into the Congaree River.
PSC commissioners had authorized Carolina Water Services’s request to include the legal fees as part of its rate increase in May. The state utility watchdog Office of Regulatory Staff objected, arguing utilities normally eat their legal fees in a losing case. Commissioners reconsidered the case on Wednesday.
In related news, the PSC also voted to allow Carolina Water Service to conditionally change its name to Blue Granite. Commissioners said the utility had to be clear in customer mailings about the name change so that there was no confusion about Blue Granite being a new, separate company.