LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg resigns

Long Island Power Authority Chairman Howard E. Steinberg Long Island Power Authority Chairman Howard E. Steinberg at LIPA headquarters in Uniondale for a regularly scheduled hearing on May 26, 2011. Steinberg resigned on November 30, 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday/ Audrey C. Tiernan

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LIPA chairman Howard Steinberg resigned from the LIPA board Friday effective immediately, the latest in a string of departures in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, shown to Newsday, Steinberg noted his term expired in August 2011, and said his full-time duties as a private-sector attorney "preclude me from being able to continue to devote the time required to address the many challenges still facing LIPA."

His departure follows the announced resignations of LIPA chief operating officer Michael Hervey, trustee X. Cristofer Damianos and vice president of customer service Bruce Germano. All announced their departures in the wake of LIPA's much-criticized response to Sandy, which knocked out power to more than 90 percent of LIPA's 1.1 million customers.

Seven of the LIPA board's 15 seats now stand vacant, and the chief executive's post has been vacant for more than two years. Trustees, including the chairman, are unpaid.

Steinberg, who was not available for comment, was appointed to the LIPA board by Gov. George Pataki in 1999. He took over as chairman of the LIPA board in February 2010.

No one has suggested that Steinberg was forced to resign by Cuomo, and his letter to the governor states that he had remained as chairman at the governor's request after his term expired in 2011.

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His resignation reduces the number of LIPA board members to eight, the exact number needed for a quorum to conduct business. If others resign or if even one trustee misses the next scheduled board meeting on Dec. 13, the trustees will not be able to conduct business.

A spokesman for Cuomo did not return a call seeking comment.

Steinberg's resignation came the same day as a report in Newsday in which a Cuomo administration official said the governor would not support a rate increase as LIPA formulates its 2013 budget. LIPA trustees are expected to vote on the budget Dec. 13, and face what is sure to be an unprecedented juggling act of keeping popular programs in place while avoiding a rate increase.

The reason: LIPA could face upward of $200 million in unreimbursed storm costs from Sandy even if the Federal Emergency Management Agency covers its standard 75 percent of the more than $800 million LIPA is expected to have spent restoring power in Sandy's wake.

The LIPA board does not have a vice chairman, so it's unclear who will step into Steinberg's post at that meeting. A governor gets to fill nine of LIPA's board seats, including the chairman, but Cuomo has appointed only one of the current four spots open to him.

Trustee Neal Lewis said that while he was sometimes at odds with Steinberg, "I have a lot of respect for the years he volunteered his time to the LIPA board. I know he cared deeply about LIPA and the service it provides, and he took very seriously the criticism. He wanted to see LIPA perform better, and he devoted a lot of time in an unpaid capacity."

Hervey, who is leaving LIPA at year's end, said Steinberg's departure points to the challenges of being a LIPA board member. "At the end of day it's a very difficult time for our trustees, who are operating under some very difficult situations," he said.

In addition to the intense criticism over storm response this year and last, trustees in the past two years approved the handing off of the LIPA grid management contract to PSEG from National Grid, scrutinized and approved contracts for new and existing power sources, and have pushed to reform LIPA spending and practices.

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"I respect his decision," Hervey said. "He's certainly going to be missed."

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