NYS Seal For Immediate Release:
August 12, 2004


Assembly Resolution Urges Congressional Action Ensuring Electric System Reliability

Silver, Tonko Warn New York State Still Vulnerable To Potential System Failures

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Energy Committee Chairman Paul Tonko announced that the Assembly unanimously approved a legislative resolution (K.2696) last night urging President George Bush and members of the United States Congress to address the continued threat of energy blackouts by enacting mandatory minimum standards for the reliability of the nation's energy system.

Acting in conjunction with the one year anniversary of the Blackout of 2003 that plunged much of the northeastern United States into darkness, Silver and Tonko warned failure to enact minimum standards to ensure the nation's power supply leaves the people of New York vulnerable to the type of system failure that struck August 14, 2003.

Calling for action that sets minimum enforceable standards for electric system reliability while ensuring states like New York retain their right to implement and enforce higher standards, Silver and Tonko said passage of federal legislation (H.R. 3004) currently before Congress sponsored by United States Senator Maria Cantwell and Congressman John Dingell was a "crucial first step in preventing future blackouts and protecting consumers."

"Without federally established minimum reliability standards in place, calls for massive expansions of multi-state bulk transmissions systems may actually render New York even more vulnerable to service interruptions due to lower reliability standards in other jurisdictions," said Tonko, a nationally recognized energy authority.

"For years, the Assembly, under the leadership of Paul Tonko has been fighting to establish a statewide, comprehensive policy that would provide for a safe and reliable energy system," said Silver (D-Manhattan). "Last year, we witnessed the type of havoc and threat to public safety that could be wrought when system-wide failures occur."

"It is unacceptable in this modern economy that trees growing in Ohio could put the lights out on Broadway in New York City," said Tonko (D-Amsterdam). "Despite the efforts of the Assembly Majority, New Yorkers are just as vulnerable to catastrophic blackouts as they were last August 14th. The most important remedy for this intolerable situation is federal action on enforceable reliable standards."

"One year after the 2003 blackout, Congress has left New Yorkers in the dark about its plans to deal with this ever-looming problem. It is critical that Congress implement a plan that will improve reliability to avoid this type of catastrophic failure again," said Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz (D-Buffalo).

Silver and Tonko said following the 2003 blackout, the Assembly held two public hearings to investigate the events and circumstances that resulted in widespread system failures. The hearings also examined preventative measures taken against future power outages and current regulatory oversight of the state's transmission grid.

Silver and Tonko noted that while most reports following the blackout pointed to out-of-state causes for the initial problems, massive power failures in New York State were supposed to have been avoidable through steps taken following the 1965 outage.

"The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force argued that the single most important step to ensure the reliability of the electric grid in the United States is for Congress to enact mandatory reliability standards," said Tonko. "Unfortunately, due to huge lobbying efforts from powerful energy interests, the Bush Administration and the Congressional leadership have both retreated from their responsibility to establish meaningful and enforceable national reliability standards. Instead, the Congressional leadership surrendered to utilities, oil companies and chemical companies, putting forth an energy bill laden with pork projects and escape clauses for polluters."

"For almost a decade, experts have warned of a very real vulnerability that exists in the transmission and delivery of electricity throughout the state. Despite attempts by the Assembly, through numerous public hearings, reports and legislation to address this problem, little has been done," said Silver.

Tonko added that while each state has jurisdiction to set and enforce local reliability standards, in order to protect New York consumers, minimum standards must be established by the federal government.

In addition to the resolution, the Assembly has passed legislation to improve New York's electric system, but the measures have yet to be approved by the state Senate, including: giving the public a stronger voice in siting of new power plants and strengthening the energy planning process (A.6248) and establishing a statewide electric utility system reliability standards (A.11223, passed Assembly).

"As we approach the one-year anniversary of the historic blackout that plunged New York State and 50 million North Americans into darkness, these reliability standards are being held hostage by a deeply flawed energy bill," said Tonko. "We urge the Congress and the President to take immediate action on the Cantwell/Dingell stand-alone electric reliability legislation as a crucial first step in preventing future blackouts and protecting New York's consumers."

"Clearly, the power delivery system of New York State also requires the attention of our state leaders in order to avoid a repeat of this massive power failure and the incredibly disruptive impact this event had on the lives of New Yorkers and our economy," Silver continued. "For that reason, I renew my call for a joint Assembly/Senate conference committee in order to come to an agreement on legislation ensuring energy reliability through a renewed power plant siting statute."

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