Cuomo's Moreland Commission to probe utilities

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

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo branded the Long Island Power Authority as "fatally flawed" as he established a special commission Tuesday to investigate how LIPA, Consolidated Edison and other public utilities have handled major storms in the past two years.

The Moreland Commission will have subpoena power and can take testimony under oath, Cuomo said. But it doesn't have authority to prosecute or penalize subjects of investigations.

Cuomo said he wants the panel to make recommendations "to reform the overlapping responsibilities of" the utilities that responded to major storms, including Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and superstorm Sandy.

The governor pointed to LIPA specifically, saying it's "been beyond repair for a very, very long time."

"I don't believe you can fix it," he said.

Cuomo had said months before Sandy hit that LIPA needed a structural overhaul. But while LIPA is a state authority whose governing board is appointed by the governor and state legislators, Cuomo has failed to fill numerous vacancies, including the position of chief executive.

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"This situation painfully exposed the failings" of the utilities, Cuomo said at news conference Tuesday. "Hopefully, we now have the political will to actually bring about change. I don't want to lose the moment."

The 10-member commission will be led by former Democratic state Attorney General Robert Abrams and Benjamin Lawsky, one of Cuomo's top lieutenants and head of the state Department of Financial Services, and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, a Republican and a trustee of the New York Power Authority, one of the agencies the commission will investigate. Other members include Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, a Democrat. Her office didn't return a call to comment Tuesday.

As he signed an executive order to create the commission, Cuomo said "serious questions have been raised about the adequacy of utility management, structures, resources, the current regulatory framework and oversight to ensure effective preparation for and response to natural disasters" in the state.

LIPA spokesman Mark Gross said that "given the extreme weather patterns we have seen, a statewide study is appropriate."

Moreland commissions have been used fewer than a dozen times, according to the New York State Archives website. This is the second time Cuomo has convened a Moreland panel, said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi; the first examined errors by the Nassau County crime laboratory.

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In addition to LIPA, Cuomo cited the New York Power Authority, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Public Service Commission as agencies that need to be examined.

Meanwhile, a Melville attorney filed a class-action 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.

Also Tuesday, State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations, announced that he will hold a public hearing to look at LIPA's storm preparation and restoration polices, and to examine industry standards, best practices and post-event analysis of the utility.

With William Murphy

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