The Washington Utilities Transportation Commission (UTC)  has unanimously approved a multi-party rate settlement for Puget Sound Energy (PSE) that slashes the utility's natural gas rates by 3.9% annually, or by $35 million, while allowing a 1% ($20 million) electric utility rate increase. The rate changes could be effective as early as Dec. 15, depending on when PSE submits revised tariffs. The changes are part of a settlement reached in September among PSE; the UTC staff; major Northwest industrial energy users; various environmental groups; Montana, and federal agencies.