Editorial: Action, Not Finger Pointing

Editorial: Action, Not Finger Pointing

A car crushed by a tree in Miller place after strong winds by Tropical Storm Isaias. Photo by Kyle Barr

We imagine that if you’re looking into your fridge and not finding any cold air coming out, that you’re smelling the milk starting to curdle and watching the meat in the freezer becoming wet and discolored, that you likely don’t want to hear anything else but the sound of heads rolling.

One has every right to be angry when the response to a storm like Isaias has been so clumsy. Reportedly, PSEG Long Island was ready for the storm but communications were not, and they continue to be confusing and out of touch. While the utility company puts out daily or even bi-daily releases about numbers of people who have gotten their power back online, the web and mobile app for reporting outages still show too many people lacking power. Either the reporting app is broken, or the lines of communication have broken down.

For a utility that promises so much of its reporting technology, residents would expect some timely communication, at the very least. Residents had a constant refrain over the past week that the timetables for when their street’s repairs would be done kept getting moved. A week after the storm, by Monday, 17,000 on Long Island still lacked power, according to the utility company, even though their own map showed at least 30,000 more potentially lacked any power out of the original 420,000.

PSEG has a lot to answer for, especially with the $40 million annual contract (plus incentives) that the Long Island Power Authority pays the utility company to handle Long Island’s electrical infrastructure.

Electeds at every level have come down on the utility company. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has requested an inquiry into PSEG’s handling of the storm. New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) has obliged and will conduct an investigation, according to a Newsday report that was confirmed by PSEG. Cuomo has also threatened to pull PSEG’s contract.

Should PSEG be responsible for people’s spoiled food and other financial hits due to loss of power? The many people who lost hundreds of dollars worth of food and medicine would certainly agree, especially those who can ill afford to lose an ounce of that during a pandemic, when many have lost jobs and unemployment benefits. The company should absolutely buckle up and support the people who need it most, especially since we still do not know just how much the 18 heads of PSEG make in salary of their multimillion dollar contract with LIPA.

But the speed and readiness that officials were ready to pounce on the utility company displays a different sort of callousness, especially in an election year. To say PSEG has become a punching bag is too quaint of a depiction for how much politicians want to make easy villains out of complicated issues. Some politicians have made going after PSEG and LIPA the cornerstone of their campaigns. Some have called for the heads of each organization to resign.

But tackling the challenges of supplying power to Long Island takes more than a readiness to plant a boot on the back of whatever company was taped with a “kick me” sign.

Isaias will not be the last major storm this season. If we’re unlucky, there could be even worse storms that hit our little sandbar called Long Island. That is where our heads should be, shoring up the infrastructure to ensure PSEG’s response does not repeat itself and getting behind initiatives that can prevent widespread damage, instead of having more people ready to clean up the aftermath.

New York is right to move toward a future where the majority of energy comes from renewable technologies. For the sake of the future of our planet, we have no choice. More than that, we need to think about our planet with the ferociousness we do when our lights stop working. Hurricanes are unrelenting. We must be as well.

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