O'Malley has Pepco in crosshairs
Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Tuesday called into morning radio programs and held a news conference outside the State House, drawing attention to the start of an investigation of Pepco he and other lawmakers are conducting.
O'Malley requested the investigation after three storms in three weeks cut power to almost a half-million people, primarily in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission, which O'Malley appoints, began taking testimony from Pepco's chief operating officer and other company officials at a hearing in Baltimore.
"Yes, there have been very severe thunderstorms, but in less severe storms we're also seeing more outages in the Pepco area than we did before," O'Malley told reporters. "To pretend that this is all due to weather is not, I think, a responsible way to act."
O'Malley said he did not have any evidence that storm-related problems could have been avoided but said he suspects that Pepco could be doing more to prevent outages. "One factor is the severe weather, one factor is the trees, but I do believe another factor has to do with the investment in the infrastructure that can maintain reliability. We don't see these same sort of outages happening in other parts of our tiny state."
O'Malley said he wants to know how Pepco's level of infrastructure investment, tree-trimming and other maintenance efforts stack against those of other Maryland utilities. In response to questions from reporters, he also said that the commission should look at burying electric lines and other more costly improvements. He said that if Pepco ratepayers were given an option to pay "a few more cents" a month for more reliable service, they may opt to do so.
The commission "needs to give us the options and the things we can do moving forward so that families aren't forced to throw out their groceries every other week and businesses aren't forced to close for days on end."
With the governor's race heating up, O'Malley's offensive against Pepco has brought echoes of 2006, when he made fighting rate hikes for Baltimore Gas & Electric customers a major campaign theme.
At a campaign stop in Montgomery County, however, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) on Tuesday declined to criticize O'Malley for requesting the PSC investigation.
Ehrlich said he thinks the PSC scrutiny of Pepco is "legitimate," and noted that his running mate, Mary Kane, had spent a couple of days in a hotel as a result of a recent outage.
"Reliability is a baseline requirement," Ehrlich said. "I think it's a legitimate thing for the PSC to look at, but also the legislature."
Ehrlich said nothing he's heard from O'Malley approaches his rhetoric on BGE rates from four years ago.
"I don't think anything could be in that league," Ehrlich said. "This is legitimate."
Aaron C. Davis & John Wagner
August 17, 2010; 12:20 PM ET
| Tags: bob ehrlich, martin o'malley, maryland politics, pepco
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