Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission is getting a new leader to reflect the change of political parties in the governor's mansion, though the commission's composition is unchanged.
Democratic Gov. Wolf has named Gladys M. Brown as the PUC's chairwoman, replacing Robert F. Powelson, a Republican from Kennett Square, who had headed the five-member commission since 2011.
The changeover occurred cordially at the end of Thursday's PUC meeting, at which Powelson invited Brown to gavel the session to a close.
Brown, 51, a Harrisburg lawyer and former legislative aide who was named to the PUC in 2013, is one of two Democrats on the panel. The term of the other Democrat, James H. Cawley, expired March 31. Wolf has not yet disclosed a decision to reappoint him or replace him.
The appointment of a Democrat as chair could signal a push of the PUC more toward a green-energy agenda. Wolf's policy chief, John Hanger, a renewable-energy champion, was an activist PUC member in the 1990s.
But a Democratic takeover of the PUC will not happen quickly. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and members of one political party can hold no more than three seats. Republicans now hold the majority, and Wolf will be unable to create a Democratic majority until 2016, when the term of Pamela Witmer is scheduled to expire.
Though the PUC's members are political appointees, the body is not overtly partisan.
"We do have a very collegial group here," Powelson said Thursday. By statute, commissioners earn salaries of $145,025. The chair earns $147,525.
The independent commission is responsible for regulating and setting rates for public utilities, including pipelines and hired-car services. Its decisions, though often opaque to the general public, can have far-reaching implications on energy choices, conservation practices, and the business investment climate.
Wolf said he looked forward to working with Brown "to ensure there is a stable balance between consumers and utilities, as well as utilizing PUC to advance the development of Pennsylvania's infrastructure to support the natural-gas industry."
"I also believe we have a real opportunity to reposition the commonwealth as a leader in developing renewable energy and energy efficiencies," Wolf said in his statement. "Gladys shares my vision and has the experience to help advance policies to achieve this."
Brown, who worked for more than 22 years as an aide and counsel in the Pennsylvania Senate, is a Middletown, Pa., native and a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.
She noted that her background is in utility law. "For me, it's just a great honor to do this," she said.
Powelson, who was president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry before his PUC appointment in 2008, mentioned several times Thursday that his commission term expires in 2019.
"I will be very brief, because I'm not going anywhere," he said.