D.C. Councilmembers Share Your Pepco Pain
As mad as some of you might be after Pepco’s recent missteps restoring power following the Jan. 26 thundersnow event, don’t worry: some members of the D.C. Council would like you to know they are even more angry.
Speaking at public hearing of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs late Friday afternoon, several councilmembers did not mince words about their feelings toward Pepco.
Mary Cheh of Ward 3, a member of the committee, said Pepco had no reason to fear the fines she wants to impose on it, as "Pepco itself is doing quite well."
"They're doing really nicely, thank you, while we sit in the dark," Cheh said. "It’s an understatement to say that we have woefully inadequate service in the District of Columbia."
Cheh also said she had trouble believing Pepco’s claim that D.C.’s tree canopy was a huge obstacle that hindered the utility's ability to restore power. "Pepco tries to make the trees responsible," she said. "The trees are not primarily responsible for the outages."
But even if the trees were a huge factor, Cheh noted Pepco has yet to use up all the funds it has to prune D.C.'s trees. Nevertheless, Cheh said, Pepco has complained to the city about difficulties with the tree canopy.
"Talk about hypocrisy," said Cheh, who did not reserve her vitriol for just Pepco. She also singled out the D.C. Public Service Commission, which she likened to a "fat little puppy."
"The Public Service Commission has failed us," she said. "The chief sheriff has to be the Public Service Commission...both entities—Pepco and the Public Service Commission—need a push in the right direction."
To her credit, the committee’s chairwoman, Ward 7's Yvette Alexander avoided going off into extended speeches about her displeasure with Pepco. Instead, she focused on asking questions of the members of the public who showed up to testify.
Similarly, Ward 4's Muriel Bowser said she had come to the hearing only to listen to what her fellow residents had to say. "I just wanted to join you and thank you for calling this hearing," she said, in lieu of an opening statement. "All of us are concerned about improving reliability for our residents."
Ward 5's Harry Thomas Jr. also showed up, ostensibly to listen to the public as well.
"While I’m not a member of your committee, Chairwoman Alexander, this is an issue which is very important to me," he explained. "We want to make sure our utilities are doing the right job.... we need to figure out what obstacles we can remove to expedite our services."
Although Thomas started his remarks by saying “I’m here to listen,” he went on to argue the city needs to change the way it deals with events like the January snow event.
"We need a coordinated effort that I have always been saying needed to exist," Thomas said. "We need to solve this problem once and for all."
While it did take some time to get power fully restored following the storm, Thomas did note that his post-storm calls with the utility were returned promptly. "I got responses that were expeditious in a personal manner," he said. "But the citizens didn’t see this."
Thomas then ended his remarks, and began taking notes on each public witness’ testimony. At one point, he expressed his surprise at the number of witnesses who showed up to testify. "I bet many of you would rather be at happy hour.”
Photo by William F. Zeman