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State attorney general opens probe of PSEG's storm response

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has requested a broad range of documents, information and communications from PSEG.   Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

State Attorney General Letitia James has launched an inquiry into PSEG Long Island’s preparation and response to Tropical Storm Isaias to “determine whether violations of state law have occurred,” according to a copy of the letter to PSEG top brass shown to Newsday.

The letter, dated Aug. 6 and addressed to PSEG Long Island president and chief operating officer Dan Eichhorn, requests a broad range of documents, information and communications from the New Jersey-based company relating not only to its performance during the storm but also to its preparations in advance of Isaias.

PSEG spokeswoman Ashley Chauvin said the company would cooperate with the probe. 

"We can confirm we have received a letter from the state attorney general," she said. "Our first priority is restoring power to every customer who lost power in the storm, and then we will cooperate with the investigation." 

The attorney general's probe is the latest in a series of investigations, independent reviews and public hearings into PSEG and other utilities' response to the storm, which knocked out power to more than 420,000 Long Islanders. On Saturday, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) announced she would hold hearings the week of Aug. 17 on utilities' response to the storm, which Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) will co-chair.

“The people of Long Island have spent the past week suffering intolerable conditions due to the unpreparedness of the people that we trust to keep our cities and towns running,” said Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, who was among senators who requested the probe. “I look forward to the results of this action and I lend my full support to the attorney general and her office while the investigation marches forward.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked the state Department of Public Service to investigate PSEG and other utilities, and Nassau and Suffolk counties and local governments have also asked for reviews following a torrent of criticism over PSEG’s response to the storm, chiefly relating to the company’s communications breakdowns in phone, text, internet and mobile apps. The company has cited call volumes that shot through the roof starting with storm outages on Tuesday. Tens of thousands remained without power Sunday.

The attorney general has requested that PSEG provide documents relating to its "actual or projected ability to provide electric services” to New Yorkers, including reliability and emergency preparedness reports.

The office also seeks information on strategic storm response and emergency restoration policies, documents relating to “decisions or determinations on escalation of operations” from Aug. 1 through Aug. 5, and “all communications with customers” starting Jan. 1 through Aug. 5 regarding the company’s planning and preparedness for extreme whether events, including hurricanes and tropical storms.

The request for documents, which are due to the attorney general by Sept. 2, also includes all communications with Verizon between Aug. 1 and Aug. 5 related to the Verizon service interruption that PSEG has repeatedly cited for the inability for customers to get through on phone lines during the height of the storm.

The office also seeks “all documents relating to volume, response rate, response times and management of communications with customers” involving delivery of service between Aug. 1 and Aug. 5.

LIPA has requested its own independent probe of PSEG's response to the storm, including its communications breakdowns. LIPA pays PSEG to manage the system under a long-term contract. PSEG won the contract starting in 2014 after National Grid was harshly criticized for its extended recovery of service from superstorm Sandy, during which more than 1 million of LIPA’s 1.1 million customers lost power.

James’ letter also requests documents and information relating to PSEG’s plans to attend to critical care customers, policies and procedures for customer claims, copies of contracts with Verizon and other contractors, and documents and materials related to organizational and staffing plans.

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