Cuomo launches a Moreland Commission, finally moving to take charge of the utilities issue

Downed power line in Coney Island. (dpavloff via Flickr)
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After two weeks of criticizing the power companies' performance after Hurricane Sandy, Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a Moreland Commission charged with investigating every utility company in New York State.

"From Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, to Hurricane Sandy, over the past two years New York has experienced some of the worst natural disasters in our state's history," said the governor in a statement. “As we adjust to the reality of more frequent major weather incidents, we must study and learn from these past experiences to prepare for the future.”

According to the announcement, the commission will review "all actions taken by the power companies before and after these emergencies, and make specific recommendations to reform and modernize oversight, regulation and management of New York's power delivery services."

The announcement also hints at a possible restructuring of the Long Island Power Authority, a state authority which has in recent weeks come under particularly withering criticism from Cuomo, despite the fact that the governor himself is responsible for appointing its leadership and, ultimately, for ensuring its ability to perform competently.

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Part of the commission's mandate will be to examine "the overlapping responsibilities and missions of NYPA, LIPA, NYSERDA, and the Public Service Commission," and recommend ways to reform them.

The commission will have subpoena power and includes, among others, Robert Abrams, the former state attorney general; Cuomo aide Benjamin Lawsky, who heads up the Department of Financial Services; John Dyson, the former NYPA chairman; former New York City Public Advocate Mark Green; Cuomo ally and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; and Rev. Floyd Flake, the politically powerful pastor of Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in Queens.

The commission's recommendations will carry with them considerable political force, and could have a major impact on the way the authorities are structured and run. 

It's also a significant move for Cuomo, politically. His post-hurricane posturing was becoming increasingly problematic, given the inherent ridiculousness of railing against an authority, LIPA, which he controls, and has done virtually nothing to fix.

The commission represents a decision on Cuomo's part to take responsibility for the other utilities, and to affect a large-scale reform that voters will remember long after his mishandling of LIPA has been forgotten.

UPDATE: At a Tuesday afternoon press conference at the Manhattan end of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to cars, the governor faced a number of questions about the utilities.

"I talked about consolidating LIPA and the other energy agencies in my campaign two years ago," he said, in response to one.

"Hopefully, now we're gonna have the political will to actually do something about it."

Again, exquisite positioning here: Though Cuomo has previously called for the restructuring of LIPA and for looking at ways to structure the utilities more efficiently, he has done little about it, even after Hurricane Irene highlighted the system's failures.