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Chris Christie Still Wants Power To Levy Higher Fines Against Utilities [AUDIO]

Last year, New Jersey was hammered by Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and a freak October ice storm that caused widespread and prolonged power outages throughout the state.

Governor Chris Christie
Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen

Hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans are still without power today after Hurricane sandy which made land fall seven days ago. Less than two months ago, Governor Chris Christie proposed legislation that holds public utility companies responsible for their performance during natural disasters, including significant financial penalties. The bill is stalled in both the Senate and Assembly.

The legislation establishes civil administrative penalties up to $25,000 per violation (up from a $100 daily assessment), with a maximum $2 million civil penalty for any related series of events. Public utilities would be barred from passing on the cost of penalties to ratepayers. This initiative stems from state Board of Public Utilities’ recommendations related to Hurricane Irene and the October 2011 snowstorm, which caused extensive, sustained power outages across the state.

Christie is not being critical of the job utility companies are doing in the wake of Sandy, but still says, “I’m sure it would have put additional pressure on them because if you know that if you don’t follow the regulations it’s going to cost you $100 a day or if you know it’s going to cost you $25,000 a day, that’s a very decision economic decision.”

The Governor emphasized that communications with utility companies after Sandy have been very co-operative, but he’s still disappointed his proposal hasn’t been approved by the legislature.

“I thought that would be very non-controversial given how many times both houses have met in the last two months,” explains Christie. “I can’t imagine anybody on either side of the aisle would be opposed to significant fines for utilities who are keeping electric power away from the residents because they made an economic decision that it was cheaper to disregard the law and pay the fine than it would be to spend the money and do it….I have no understanding as to why it wasn’t done and I hope at some point it will be, but at this point it’s almost like closing the barn door after the cow already ran out.”

The legislation also prioritizes the importance of preparedness and reliability standards in responding to emergencies that threaten service delivery, by putting in place aggressive planning requirements for public utilities for service reliability and strategic communications in an emergency in the form of an annually submitted plan, as well as requiring the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for service reliability, service disruption preparedness, service restoration, and communications for electric distribution companies doing business in the State.

The proposal also grants BPU investigative authority to review public utility performance during an outage and, if found to be failing in implementing its reliability plan, impose civil administrative penalties.

Restoration maps provided to the Governor’s office by the utilities

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