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At PSC hearing, residents demand accountability for Pepco

Tuesday night, hundreds of residents crowded into the County Council hearing room to witness and testify to the PSC about Pepco’s response to the Derecho.

There were so many powerful moments.  Two that I will never forget:  First, the testimony from Mary Caroline Colletti, who  told the PSC that she lost her asthma medicine in the Derecho outage and couldn’t afford more medicine because her insurance does not cover this kind of loss.  Then, she said, when the new storms were approaching the following weekend, she faced an almost debilitating stress worrying how she would breathe if another outage occurred:

“The Sunday after the derecho, there was a pending and worrisome forecast for another severe approaching storm which damaging winds, etc., later in the day it became apparent, thankful Montgomery County would be spared.  Harnessed with the knowledge and horrid memories of Pepco’s slow and ineffective power restoration prospects, I became so stressed for myself and friends, for over 16 hours I was confronted with a series of severe asthma attacks.  Laden with fact, if my power went out, it could be days before electricity would be restored, in light of the regressive, worsen performance by Pepco after each “unique event.”

Mary Caroline Colletti’s Testimony from Tuesday’s PSC Hearing on Pepco
Video Courtesy of the Montgomery County Public Information Office

It is an utter outrage that any Montgomery County resident would have to live this way.

Then there was the testimony from another constituent. The reason I was so struck by this testimony is that it was almost my own story. I will never forget the look in my wife’s eye, during the outage of the 2011 ice storm, as she considered the consequences of losing a month’s worth of breast milk that she had carefully stored in the freezer. Thankfully we did not lose that supply that year, but she lost hers in the derecho:

“Last month, I poured my entire reserve supply of breast milk down the drain, 48 ounces, which would have been 12 feedings, a 3 day supply in case my 6 month old baby Avery and I were ever separated in an emergency.  It had been stored safely frozen, giving me peace of mind, until Pepco’s derecho debacle left us without power for 6 days. If any of you have ever breastfed an infant, you know what it can take to get that far ahead. I am now just keeping up with his daily needs for daycare, with no reserve supply, because I have never been able to get ahead since the massive power outage that struck our region following the June 29 storm. This is especially difficult because I just returned to work full-time at the end of July and was counting on that back-up supply in case I fell behind.  From talking to my friends, I know I am not the only working mother of a breastfeeding infant who suffered the same consequences.”

  Additional Testimony from Tuesday’s PSC Hearing on Pepco
Video Courtesy of the Montgomery County Public Information Office

People worried that they won’t be able to breathe or take care of their babies.  This is what poor regulation of Pepco has brought us in Montgomery County.

As I said earlier, these are just a few highlights of the personal testimonies from many residents affected by Pepco’s poor service standards. For those who were unable to attend the hearing or are interested in hearing from other residents, a full recap of the PSC hearing is available.

We are fighting back. The hearing might be over, but we are determined to keep the momentum going and ensure that Pepco is held accountable by the PSC. Click here to see how you can get involved with our efforts.

A coalition of citizens and advocacy groups is coming together to push the PSC to do its job and hold Pepco accountable. Tuesday’s gripping hearing was the first step in the campaign.

Please contact powerupmontco@gmail.com if you want to get involved.  That is the email address established by Abbe Milstein, an outraged resident who is organizing for change.

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Daily Journal 07-16-12: White Flint, Pepco, Municipal Taxes)

Today started in White Flint at the location of the future “Pike & Rose” development that Federal Realty has initiated. This development is on that big lot where the Toys R Us was for many years near Montrose Road and 355.

Federal Realty is going to turn those acres of asphalt into a spectacular community of residences, retail and commercial space. Today was the groundbreaking, attended not only by yours truly but the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, County Executive, Council President, and others.

I am passionate about moving ahead on the redevelopment of Rockville Pike, which will become the urban spine of our economic future. With all the great projects coming online up and down The 355, that area is going to become one of the most interesting and enjoyable places to live in the country.

Then back to the office to continue working on the #FixPepco campaign, which is taking off— we have over 2,000 petition signers now. I think its working to put the focus where it needs to be, on the regulators who are not doing their job. Our Maryland Public Services Commission is tasked with ensuring that consumers are protected from the monopoly utilities. They haven’t gotten the job done and the Governor needs to start over at that failed regulatory agency. Please sign!

Next up, a Gov Ops committee meeting on an issue that I have been learning more and more about in my time at the Council – the issue of municipal tax duplication. This is the problem where residents who live in our county’s municipalities (about 17% of county residents living in cities such as Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Takoma Park) pay property tax for a county service that the city has decided to provide. The county is required by the state to refund that double property tax. For many years, however, the county did more than just refund the double property tax; we provided the municipalities with additional funds. That fact is not well understood; to the contrary, some residents of these municipalities are under the erroneous impression that they pay higher taxes because the county does not refund their double taxes.

We have a lot of work to do to get closer to a resolution and to ensure a process that works for both the county and the municipalities in the future. The committee is going to keep focusing on this issue and take some specific steps later in the year. You can read more about the issue in this council staff memo (PDF).

Finally, a quick interview with ABC News about #FixPepco, which led the 5:30pm TV news!, and now I am preparing to visit with the Western Montgomery Citizens Advisory Board at 7pm. I’m sure we’ll be talking Pepco…

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How to fix Pepco

It has been about eight years now since the crisis at Pepco came to light, and as far as Montgomery County residents are concerned, nothing has changed.

The 2012 “derecho” storm is the latest disaster, but the problem has been growing for years. In 2011, there were hundreds of thousands of power outages after an ice storm. There were severe outages from storms in 2010, and 2008, and after Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

In Maryland, utility companies are granted a monopoly in exchange for submitting to direct supervision by one agency, the “PSC” (Public Service Commission). The PSC is an independent agency, but the Governor appoints its members and has the power to replace them.

That’s why I started a petition on SignOn.org to Gov. O’Malley and the Maryland legislature, which says:


“The state regulators at the PSC are failing. The chairman of the PSC, Douglas Nazarian, has admitted that they were slow to recognize problems at Pepco. But he is still in charge of the PSC and so are the rest of the slow responders. Why?” 

“The PSC is an independent agency, but the Governor appoints its members and has the power to replace them.” 

As a county government, we have no direct power over Pepco. I can talk until I turn blue about what I think Pepco needs to do better, the fact is that only the PSC can change Pepco, and only the Governor can change the PSC.

Thank you for joining my call to bring accountability to Pepco and Maryland’s utility companies. I welcome your comments below.