Opinion “Recreating LIPA”


Karl Grossman: “Recreating LIPA”

Fri, Jul 1, 2011

Calling for “recreating LIPA” with a “a publicly elected ratepayer board with candidates that are qualified” was Irving Like, instrumental in forming the Long Island Power Authority and now a member of a special LIPA oversight committee established by the Suffolk County Legislature.

The committee was holding a hearing in Riverhead on June 13 and as it opened Like set the tone for the criticism that would follow and zeroed in on what has become LIPA’s central fault.

He noted the statute that created LIPA providing that it have an elected board “as the method of its governance.” But this was “thwarted,” said the Babylon attorney, by Governor Mario Cuomo postponing LIPA board elections and then Governor George Pataki flatly eliminating having them. The LIPA structure was then changed to having “a board appointed and controlled by Albany politicians.”

LIPA must have, said Like, a board “accountable to the ratepayers” through elections. He was deeply involved in LIPA’s creation as counsel to the main organization which pushed for a Long Island public power entity to replace the Long Island Lighting Company.

He blasted the current LIPA chairman, Howard Steinberg, for calling for privatizing LIPA.  Steinberg, with no experience in energy, whose Manhattan law firm describes him as experienced in “mergers and acquisitions…and corporate governance issues,” was appointed to LIPA by Mr. Pataki. He asserted at a LIPA board meeting in April that LIPA “has outlived its usefulness” and he wanted to “restore LIPA to private hands.”

Other speakers also criticized Steinberg at the hearing on June 13 and said that LIPA, instead of going private, should become a completely public utility. Now, it was pointed out, LIPA contracts out production of the electricity and gas to the British-based private utility National Grid.

Jane Fasullo, speaking for Sierra Club Long Island, said privatizing LIPA “would be a boon to Wall Street and a tragedy for our people…We think this would be a disaster for Long Island.” The result would be a private entity putting “corporate profits ahead of renewable energy.”

LIPA, she said, should “become a municipal utility” along the lines of the Long Island municipal utilities in Greenport, Freeport and Rockville Centre.

Suffolk Legislator Edward Romaine, who led in setting up the oversight committee, testified that “privatizing LIPA would be a huge mistake” and said LIPA “should be a full-blown public utility.” He also said privatizing LIPA would benefit “those on Wall Street…at the cost of the ratepayers.”

Romaine also stressed elections noting that when LIPA came into being in the 1980s, the promise was “that we were going to get an elected board.”

Peter Maniscalco, an environmental educator from Manorville, said the “deeper issue” in the LIPA story involves how “Wall Street and corporations corrupt our political system.” Instead of an elected LIPA board, LIPA board members ended up appointed by “politicians who do Wall Street’s bidding.”

The recreation of LIPA can happen. It will take a great effort but that was what was needed, and came about to get LIPA created in the first place.

Like worked with Maurice Barbash in Citizens to Replace LILCO. I  recall in 1985 visiting Barbash, its chairman, at his office—interestingly, a mile from the waterfall on Sumpwams Creek in Babylon, the source of (renewable) energy for Long Island’s first utility,

Babylon Electric Lighting Company. “It’s unbelievable,” Barbash was saying. “The phones are jumping off the hooks. I’ve never seen an issue that has generated more public response on Long Island.”

The kind of energy that created LIPA needs to return to re-create LIPA—and re-make it into what it was supposed to be: a vehicle for Long Islanders through democracy to chart their own energy future.

The Suffolk Legislature’s new LIPA Oversight Committee could play a big role in the needed initiative to bring LIPA back to its original vision.


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