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LIPA’s Nuclear Hangover Proves Headache for Sandy’s Victims

6:10 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Head of Long Island Power Authority Will Step Aside Along with Other Board Members, But Problems Have Deep Roots

The decommissioned Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant still occupies a 58-acre site on Long Island Sound. (photo: Paul Searing via Wikipedia)

As the sun set on Veterans Day, 2012, tens of thousands of homes on New York’s Long Island prepared to spend another night in darkness. The lack of light was not part of any particular memorial or observance; instead, it was the noisome and needless culmination of decades of mismanagement and malfeasance by a power company still struggling to pay for a now-moldering nuclear plant that never provided a single usable kilowatt to the region’s utility customers.

The enterprise in charge of all that darkness bears little resemblance to the sorts of power companies that provide electricity to most Americans–it is not a private energy conglomerate, nor is it really a state- or municipality-owned public utility–but the pain and frustration felt by Long Island residents should be familiar to many. And the tale of how an agency mandated by law to provide “a safer, more efficient, reliable and economical supply of electric energy” failed to deliver any of that is at its very least cautionary, and can likely serve as an object lesson for the entire country.

Almost immediately, the United States will be faced with tough choices about how to create and deliver electrical power. Those choices are defined not just by demand but by a warming climate and an infrastructure already threatened by the changes that climate brings. When one choice, made by a private concern nearly 50 years ago, means weeks of power outages and billions of dollars in repair costs today, it suggests new decisions about America’s energy strategy should be handled with care.

A stormy history

Two weeks after Hurricane-cum-Superstorm Sandy battered the eastern coast of the United States, upwards of 76,000 customers of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) were still without power. That number is down markedly from the one million LIPA customers (91 percent of LIPA’s total customer base) that lost power as Sandy’s fierce winds, heavy rains and massive storm surge came up the Atlantic Coast on Monday, October 29, and down, too, from the over 300,000 still without service on election day, but at each step of the process, consumers and outside observers alike agreed it was too many waiting too long.

And paying too much. LIPA customers suffer some of the highest utility rates in the country, and yet, the power outages that came with last month’s storm–and a subsequent snowstorm nine days later–while disgraceful, were far from unexpected. The Long Island Power Authority and its corporate predecessor, the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO), have a long track record of service failures and glacial disaster response times dating back to Hurricane Gloria, which hit the region in the autumn of 1985.

After Gloria, when many Long Island homes lost power for two weeks, and again after widespread outages resulted from 2011′s Hurricane Irene, the companies responsible for providing electricity to the residents of most of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, along with parts of the Borough of Queens in New York City, were told to make infrastructure improvements. In 2006, it was reported that LIPA had pledged $20 million annually in grid improvements. But the reality proved to be substantially less–around $12.5 million–while LIPA also cut back on transmission line inspections.

Amidst the current turmoil, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been highly critical of LIPA, calling for the “removal of management” for the “colossal misjudgments” that led to the utility’s failures. Cuomo made similar statements about LIPA and its private, for-profit subcontractor, National Grid, last year after Hurricane Irene. But as another day mercifully dawned on tens of thousands of homes still without electricity over two weeks after Sandy moved inland, the dysfunctional structure in charge of the dysfunctional infrastructure remains largely unchanged.

Which, it must be noted, is especially vexing because Governor Cuomo should not be powerless when it came to making changes to the Long Island Power Authority.

It was Andrew’s father, Governor Mario Cuomo, who oversaw the creation of LIPA in 1985 to clean up the fiscal and physical failures of the Long Island Lighting Company. LILCO’s inability to quickly restore power to hundreds of thousands of customers after Hurricane Gloria met with calls for change quite similar to contemporary outrage. But it was LILCO’s crushing debt that perhaps exacerbated problems with post-Gloria cleanup and absolutely precipitated the government takeover.

The best-laid schemes

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The Party Line – April 15, 2011
Three Men in a Room

6:17 am in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

Congratulations, America, your federal budget process is now as efficient as New York State’s!

Here is what your grand vision of liberal government looks like–at least for the rest of FY 2011 (PDF). For example, part of Title X aid to family planning was what became shorthanded as the debate to defund Planned Parenthood. (A rider with language that specifically targeted Planned Parenthood was given an up-or-down vote yesterday–part of the Boehner-Obama pact on the continuing resolution. It failed, but Republicans have another vote to use in campaigns against Dems in conservative states come 2012.) As you can see (you can click images to enlarge), Title X wasn’t eliminated, but it was cut by $27 million compared to the original budget request–taking it $10 million below its FY 2010 line.

Bet you won’t find mention of that in Wednesday’s totally awesome speech.

[To watch the video in a separate window, click here.]

The Fierce Urgency of What, Now? Obama Gives Time to Stewart, Five Bloggers, Days Before Midterm Vote

12:05 pm in Uncategorized by Gregg Levine

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Pt. 1
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

Depending on your perspective (and/or tolerance for slow-pitch softball), there is either much or little to take away from Wednesday’s presidential charm assault on the professional left. I am actually a bit gobsmacked by much of what I saw on The Daily Show and read in the transcript of Obama’s meeting with the five bloggers who found golden tickets in their Wonka bars. The fact that the president still can’t give a compelling “elevator speech” about his sometimes-touted health insurance reform–amazing. Saying his ballyhooed “change you can believe in” can’t happen overnight–after 20 months in office–unbelievable. Refusing to give his opinion on whether or not “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional because he is “not sitting on the Supreme Court”–wtf?

For the moment, however, I want to highlight this short passage from the prog-blogger confab:

But I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there. What they’re looking for is help on jobs, help on keeping their homes, help on sending their kids to college. And if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.

What’s going to be your priority, exactly?

I suppose I should take it as a baby step that Obama acknowledges there is still a hydra-headed economic crisis out there, but that’s kind of the price of White House admission as far as I’m concerned. And that the president can’t find it in his rhetorical rucksack to explicitly promise help and lay out a series of concrete actions that he will undertake—on the eve of a crucial midterm election, no less—negates any credit he might get for recognizing the problem. “Working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible” doesn’t communicate anything resembling fierce urgency. It is the kind of verbal tap dance that has me wondering what’s behind the ineloquent words, leaving me to choose between cowardice and connivance.

But it is that last sentence that is either most ineloquent or the most telling. “If I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.” What’s the priority? Because to me it sounds like his priority is finding ways to work with Republicans more than it is to “advance those issues,” however weak-willed that phrasing already seems.

And what if Republicans don’t want to play—because they have made it very clear that they don’t—then what? What if the president can’t find a way to work with what will certainly be a more Republican Congress—does that mean that joblessness and the foreclosure fraud crisis will not be his priority? Because, seriously, if it is not my first interpretation, it has to be the second.

Obama’s 2008 electoral success, like all success, had many mothers, but one of the reasons he was able to take the country by storm was his ability to build a compelling narrative. “Change we can believe in,” “The fierce urgency of now,” and the phrase that Jon Stewart kept coming back to, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” helped candidate Obama tell a story about what President Obama’s America would look like. And it was a persuasive story. “Working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible. . . if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans” is not.

In his own defense, the president sometimes likes to quote former New York Governor Mario Cuomo: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” So be it. But even as prose, the aggregate of Obama’s day of talking to the left falls flat. Perhaps he failed to grasp the metaphor, so I will explain: the prose, Mr. President, is not just words. Your problems with a broken process is not a story jobless, homeless, or just plain insecure Americans need to hear right now. Governing is doing, and the story is told in good jobs, mortgage modification, and real relief in the face of rising health care costs. To Wednesday’s intended audience, it might be told by closing Guantanamo and trying any remaining detainees in civilian courts, by prosecuting Americans that used torture, defrauded the federal government or lied to Congress, and by immediately halting military discharges resulting from “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

What the president cannot seem to grasp is that people now hear his words—poetry or prose—in the context of their lives. And when Obama tells his one-time supporters that he has gotten 90 percent of what he wanted, those people have to wonder if what the president wants and what they want is still (or was ever) the same thing.

That is not a question Democrats want voters asking six days before the midterms.