Sunday, January 24, 2010

State Agency Has Failed Public in Tree Fiasco

Editorial from Jan 12th edition of The Examiner - (see page 8):

It was admirable that three representatives of the state’s Department of Public Service spent more than four hours last Saturday listening to the angst of residents and local officials.

Little else can be said about their visit despite the best efforts of State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and municipal officials to help their constituents.

In separate public forums in Pleasantville and Greenburgh, similar scenarios played out. A healthy turnout of residents came to village hall and town hall, respectively, in hopes of getting some straight answers into why hundreds of trees needed to be wiped out by Con Edison contractors when much of that vegetation posed no threat to the utility’s transmission lines.

There were also questions regarding possible mitigation on land that had been decimated by Con Edison’s outrageous actions.

For the most part, the answers were few and the explanations that did come were inadequate.

At this point, the ironically named Department of Public Service and its commission are the main culprits in the ever widening tree-cutting fiasco that has pockmarked thousands of acres in Westchester and throughout the state.

It is clear this department, which is supposed to protect the public interest, has failed spectacularly in its responsibilities. Con Edison, which is constantly looking for fresh rate hikes, will get away with whatever they can unless the regulatory agency clamps down. Similar to SEC regulators a few years ago in the financial sector, the oversight is poor and they are too closely aligned with the entities they are supposed to regulate.

Yes, part of protecting the public’s interest is to make sure there isn’t a repeat of the crippling blackout that left most of the Northeast and a chunk of eastern Canada in the dark during an August 2003 outtage. But anyone who has seen before-and-after pictures of Pleasantville’s Nannahagan Park knows that many of the trees cut down there in November weren’t going to plunge the eastern seaboard into darkness. Ever.

Jim Austin, a deputy director for the department, and David Morrell, who is one of the people responsible for devising the vegetation management guidelines around the state, sounded more like apologists for the utility companies than impartial regulators.

Austin repeatedly reminded the Greenburgh crowd he wasn’t an attorney when confronted with a substantive question, explained that transmission lines can sag as much as 20 feet during the summer and noted that the federal government’s guidelines are even more aggressive than New York State’s.

What happened to the vegetation management program? There were guidelines that had been on the PSC’s Web site that provided recommendations that tree limbs should be at least a certain distance from the transmission lines. Any trees that weren’t within that distance would be trimmed or left alone.

Until there is a better explanation, it would appear that the guidelines have been ignored because Con Edison and other utilities don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of returning every few years to do more maintenance.

Oh, and don’t forget to put more cash away later this year when electric rates are on the rise again.

1 comment:

Heartbroken in Hartsdale said...

My bill just came Dec 19th-Jan 19th $1067.50
3 heat zones/63-65 degrees.