Suffolk County Legislators created an oversight committee for the Long Island Power Authority Tuesday afternoon in an effort to "shine light" on the utility company.
Sponsored by Legis. Ed Romaine, R – Center Moriches, the committee is an example of the Legislator's "foot in the door theory." While Romaine openly admitted more than once that the committee's ability to enact real change may be limited, he's hoping the committee's ability to inspire change or open doors for future investigations may be where it comes in most useful.
'While the committee's suggestions may be general and less than specific," Romaine said during Tuesday's County Legislature meeting in Riverhead, "they certainly would point the way to a public debate which we have so sorely lacked. LIPA lacks any oversight by anyone … they have no Public Service Commission oversight. No one checks into any of their activities."
The Legislature voted 17-0, with one recusal.
The LIPA oversight committee will be comprised of six members:
- One person "who has familiarity with the operations of LIPA" - chosen by the Presiding Officer of the Legislature
- Two experts in operation of electric utilities - chosen by the Legislature
- Two energy experts - chosen by the Legislature
- One member of a civic organization - chosen by the Legislature
The commitee will study multiple aspects of the utility company, including various rate structures and disaster plans, hold four public hearings throughout next year, and issue a report to the Legislature by the end of 2011.
Legis. Lou D'Amaro, D – Huntington Station, said he agreed with the concept of oversight, but questioned whether the committee would have the resources or authority to provide effective oversight. D'Amaro briefly sparred with Romaine over whether his proposed committee could do what Romaine hopes it can, or whether it would be any different from resources the county already has in its Budget Review Office.
However when time came to vote on the resolution, D'Amaro recused himself, as he serves as an of counsel attorney to Rivkin Radler, the law firm which represents LIPA.
"I don't take issue with the need for review," D'Amaro said. "What I take issue with is the fact that we don't have the jurisdiction to conduct a review, we probably don't have the cooperation of the utility, nor do we have any way to compel the utility to cooperate.
"I know we have expertise in the BRO," he continued. "But beyond that, you're talking about a very intricate, very difficult to understand area. Without the cooperation of the utility, without the ability to compel them to cooperate, I question if this is an effective use of resources and time."
Legis. Tom Barraga, R – West Islip, shared D'Amaro's doubts on the committee's abilities to effectively probe LIPA. However, he added that the mere fact that the Legislature – and media – would spend their time even trying to probe may be enough.
"One thing commissions can do – especially if it's a report to a standing committee – is give them public exposure," Barraga said. "Public authorities do not like reading about themselves in the newspapers. That's one way you can put pressure on them – if this oversight committee is in place."
Romaine stated several times that creation of an oversight committee for LIPA was ensured in a 1999 law passed which "obligates" elected officials to oversee the authority. In a press conference he added that he tried forming the committee last year, but due to personal time constraints and a lack of votes, formation of the committee was delayed.