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Cuomo launches special investigation of utilities

Governor Andrew Cuomo in Long Beach. (Nov. 10,

Governor Andrew Cuomo in Long Beach. (Nov. 10, 2012) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Tuesday a specially-convened panel to investigate utility companies’ performance during superstorm Sandy.

The Moreland Commission panel will look into “the response, preparation and management” of New York’s power companies during major storms over the last two years, including Hurricane Irene in 2011, the governor said in a statement.

Cuomo said he also wants the panel to make recommendations “to reform the overlapping responsibilities of” the New York Power Authority, the Long Island Power Authority, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Public Service Commission.

“From Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, to Hurricane Sandy, over the past two years New York has experienced some of the worst natural disasters in our state's history,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As we adjust to the reality of more frequent major weather incidents, we must study and learn from these past experiences to prepare for the future.”

Enacted in 1907, the Moreland Commission law gives wide powers to a governor-convened panel — including the ability to subpoena witnesses and hold public hearings. It has been used fewer than 10 times, according to the New York State Archives website.

This is the first time Cuomo has convened a Moreland panel, though he threatened to use it to investigate legislators’ ethics.

The 10-member panel will be headed by former state Attorney General Robert Abrams and Benjamin Lawsky, one of Cuomo’s top lieutenants and current head of the state Department of Financial Services.

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice will serve on the commission, as will former New York mayoral candidate Mark Green and former congressman Rev. Floyd Flake.

In signing an executive order to create the commission, Cuomo noted “serious questions have been raised about the adequacy of utility management, structures, resources, the currently regulatory framework and oversight to ensure effective preparation for and response to natural disasters” in the state.

Cuomo has been harshly critical of LIPA and other utilities in the aftermath of Sandy. Months before the storm hit, he said LIPA needed a structural overhaul, although Cuomo has failed to fill numerous vacancies, including its chief executive.

Meanwhile, a Melville attorney filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against LIPA and National Grid, alleging the companies “grossly neglected vital maintenance” before the storm, which left about 90 percent of Long Island without power.

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