A recent decision of the Office of Open Records (OOR) is noteworthy for the extensive analysis supporting its conclusion that the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) must produce a substantial number of the records requested regarding submissions to the PUC in connection with a pipeline. In Friedman v. Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, OOR Dkt. No.: AP 2019-1324 (Oct. 10, 2019), the OOR rejected multiple arguments asserting that all of the information requested was within various exemptions under the Right-to-Know Law (“RTKL”), 65 P.S. §§ 67.101 et seq. This Final Determination is also notable for its grant of a request to participate by a party with a direct interest in the subject of the appeal.
The most efficient way to highlight this 31-page decision of the OOR is to note the multiple arguments that were rejected in terms of exemptions that were claimed but were denied. This decision should be read by anyone seeking information under the RTKL from the PUC (which is subject to the jurisdiction of the OOR).
Among the exemptions that the PUC claimed were a basis to prohibit disclosure–but which in most instances were determined not to allow the PUC to withhold documents, include the following:
- Section 708(b)(2) regarding disclosure that would threaten public safety.
- Section 708(b)(3) relating to exemptions for disclosure that would endanger the safety of a building, public utility, infrastructure or information storage system.
- Section 708(b)(3)(ii) refers to infrastructure and resources defined by the federal government in the National Infrastructure Protections Act.
- Section 708(b)(3)(iii) allows exemptions that would expose infrastructure to vulnerability due to disclosure, including public utility systems, communications systems, water, sewage and gas systems.
- Section 708(b)(11) exempts certain trade secrets or other confidential proprietary information.
- Section 708(b)(17) exempts non-criminal investigative records.
- Section 708(b)(17)(vi) provides an exemption for records that, if disclosed, would: (A) reveal the progress of an agency investigation; (B) deprive a person of the right to an impartial adjudication; (C) constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy; (D) hinder the ability of an agency to secure an administrative sanction; and (E) endanger the life or physical safety of an individual