MONTPELIER (AP) - The state agency responsible for representing utility ratepayers is being criticized by consumer and environmental groups after admitting it knew of a big cost increase on a natural gas pipeline project four months before it was made public.

Deep in a legal brief by the Public Service Department requesting a $35,000 fine against Vermont Gas Systems for being slow to report the cost increase, the department says it knew a big cost increase was coming as early as March. But it didn't make that public before it was announced in July.

Both department Commissioner Christopher Recchia and Sandra Levine, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation, say it was the company's responsibility to tell the Public Service Board sooner. AARP's Philene Taormina says the department should have notified the public.