Judge throws out gas lawsuit
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Ninth District Judge T. Peter Craven on Thursday threw out a lawsuit alleging natural gas companies Kinder Morgan and Rocky Mountain Natural Gas overcharged their customers for gas. But rather than clearing up the question of whether the company overcharged for gas, Craven simply ruled that such decisions should be left to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, not the courts. “When the activity is the application of CPUC-approved and published rates and rate practices, it is that CPUC and not the district court that has subject matter jurisdiction,” Craven wrote. The suit, which was originally filed in Garfield County District Court by the cities of Aspen and Glenwood Springs on behalf of their residents on June 3, alleged that “since at least 1980 the natural gas companies have systematically and falsely represented the characteristics and quality of retail natural gas that they sold to plaintiffs and members of the class in order to unjustly enrich themselves.”The suit said that because the gas companies failed to compensate for a decrease in air pressure at higher elevations – high elevation naturally decreases the density of the gas – the less-dense gas “had significantly lower heating content.”At Aspen’s elevation, the suit claimed that natural gas contains at least 23 percent less heating value than it would at sea level.As a result, the suit claimed that the two gas companies “knowingly, deceptively and falsely fail to apply the required conversion factor when billing for the natural gas they have sold and continue to sell.”Glenwood Springs dropped out of the case on Aug. 30 because, according to Glenwood Springs city attorney Karl Hanlon, the city accomplished a lot of the things it wanted to get from the suit, like having the company place more scrutiny on how it charges its gas rates.Dan Watson, president of Kinder Morgan’s retail business, said on Friday he was “pleased” with the lawsuit’s outcome.”We think the judge made the right call,” he said. “We do feel vindicated.”Watson said he agrees with Craven’s ruling that any challenge to the company’s gas pricing structure should come from the state’s Public Utilities Commission. “Certainly this is a matter for the commission to review,” he said. Watson said Aspen could take its complaint to the PUC. “Whether they plan to do that, I don’t know,” he said. Aspen city attorney John Worcester was unavailable for comment on Friday.”With Glenwood having withdrawn from the suit and Craven dismissing the suit, we hope the matter is behind us,” Watson said.Contact Greg Massé: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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