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EDITORIAL: Who is at the switch at LIPA?

Better oversight of the Long Island Power Authority is best started close to home.

While there is constant concern about high electric rates, little attention is paid to the trustees responsible for governing LIPA. The costly decisions to build a new plant in Yaphank, but then delay using its power, may have been correct ones. Yet, who's accountable for them?

There have been past calls for greater control by Albany regulators and the Suffolk County Legislature, or even direct elections of the LIPA trustees. The latest proposal by Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon) would have the Nassau and Suffolk county executives, with the approval of their legislatures, each appoint a public advocate to the board.

The suggestion is a good one, but LIPA already has an unwieldy 15-seat board whose members are appointed by Albany leaders. Instead of expanding the board, introducing local advocates provides an opportunity to downsize it. Any new reform also should include the requirement that the trustees have expertise in energy or finance. This is too important a position to be filled by chums or as reward for fundraising.

The original law created a public authority with nine members. But in a bitter political struggle in 1995, Gov. George Pataki - in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get rid of then-LIPA chairman Richard Kessel - persuaded the legislature to expand the board. Giving each county a representative on LIPA's governing board now makes sense only if the board is truly able to govern. hN