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Activist calls for alternative to Cuomo's LIPA plan

Victor Yannacone, the activist lawyer who led the fight to ban the insecticide DDT and once represented "Deep Throat" actress Linda Lovelace, has a new target in his crosshairs: the Long Island Power Authority.

Yannacone, who lives in Patchogue, Friday will take issue with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's recently approved plan to turn over nearly full control of LIPA to New Jersey utility, PSEG. The talk is part of a broader discussion on the future of LIPA and possible alternatives scheduled by the business group Long Island Metro-Business Action.

In place of the governor's plan, Yannacone is calling for a new structure that makes LIPA a fully ratepayer-owned, not-for-profit public utility answerable only to ratepayers.

Yannacone said Cuomo's plan amounts to a return to the days of the Long Island Lighting Co., with little direct public input or accountability. His message to Cuomo and state lawmakers who passed his bill last month: "Get out of the way. You don't live here, you're not a ratepayer here. Go back to managing the state."

Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Cuomo, said the governor was "the only one to put forward a real plan to change the utility and institute desperately needed reforms," and noted the bill "went through a public review process and was passed by the legislature."

Under Yannacone's idea, trustees of the fully ratepayer-owned utility would be elected by ratepayers and make power and management decisions with the sole purpose of improving service and lowering rates -- without a profit motive.

LIPA's nearly $7 billion in debt would be renegotiated with bondholders, Yannacone said, as it should have been 15 years ago, when LIPA took on LILCO's assets and its debt.

Yannacone is urging ratepayers to take up the issue with state lawmakers. At least one said it's worth consideration.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who opposed Cuomo's LIPA plan, said he found Yannacone's idea for LIPA "very intriguing," and said would consider sponsoring legislation to explore its feasibility.

"It clearly would be superior in terms of transparency and accountability," he said, though he wondered aloud whether LIPA would be able to retain its tax-exempt status under the model.

Still, Thiele added that he believes it would be "very difficult to get the governor and legislature to reverse field on this."

Cuomo last month pushed through a bill in the state legislature that vastly reduces LIPA's role and limiting its authority.

Ernie Fazio, executive director of LIMBA, the group hosting Yannacone, said he plans to support Yannacone's plan. "Enough of politicians making deals that taxpayers and ratepayers have to pay for," Fazio said.

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