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Bob McMillanAn Opinion

By Bob McMillan
Presidents v. The Supreme Court

The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention.  President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”

For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd.  Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.

Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages

In early 1946, a brouhaha erupted between the AFL and the CIO, the state’s rival federations of labor groups. Republican leaders in the state legislature endorsed the upstate-oriented AFL’s proposal that New York license and regulate barbers and cosmetologists. The downstate-oriented CIO, which had members who couldn’t document the required formal education, launched opposition so fierce and threatened political retaliation so severe that the legislation was considered dead. And then, as the 1946 session was drawing to a close and the CIO was concentrating on other things, the “barber and hairdresser bills” started moving through both houses, with almost total Republican support and Democratic opposition. Member of Assembly Genesta Strong, first-termer from Nassau County, dependable, safe and already expected to step aside, was asked to be the official sponsor of the cosmetologist licensing bill.

Governor Dewey’s signing of the bill cemented support for his re-election from the powerful AFL, which had been the whole point. To those in political inner circles, Mrs. Strong had proved herself a reliable team player whose dignity was useful in deflecting potential attack.

Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
Sustainable LI: Getting Good Things Done

Farmingdale-based Sustainable Long Island is hosting its eighth annual Sustainability Conference on Friday, April 4, at Carlyle on the Green, at Bethpage State Park.

The event will run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and traditionally draws hundreds of people from all walks of life: government, business and not-for-profits. This year’s theme is “Accomplishing More Together.” Tickets are $75 per person, which includes the cost of lunch.

Long Islanders Can Handle The Facts

All parts of a power transmission and distribution system can be put underground. The larger transmission lines that usually run along main roads and railroad tracks, the “tap lines” that branch off into neighborhoods, the substations and transformers, all of it. Underground systems are not perfectly protected, but they are better protected from wind, ice and trees.

The cost of underground wires in new developments is only a little more than putting in overhead wires. Replacement of existing overheads with buried wires is something else. It costs more, but how much more and if it’s worth the cost are questions that need serious study from some objective source, once and for all.

Over the past ten years, at least seven state and Canadian provinces, plus an electrical industry trade group, have sponsored big, fat studies weighing potential costs against potential benefits of widespread undergrounding of electrical wires.

Cost estimates have been all over the place. Population density and topography are major variables. There are different strategies to make repairs easier and dissipate heat buildup. Some studies don’t account for the probability of power, gas, telephone and cable operators sharing costs, or for trenching overhead wires as they fall or their worn poles must be replaced. We just don’t know. For decades LILCO and then LIPA seem to have cooked cost estimates of burying sagging, unsightly, dangerous and unreliable wires. Since the 1960s, LILCO and LIPA official cost estimates have gone from $900 million to $33.3 billion.

The fact is that by the 1960s, much of the cost argument against undergrounding was severely weakened by sharply rising property values and a new housing market that no longer required rock-bottom prices in prestigious Long Island. As the Johnson Administration was promoting popular highway beautification programs, there was also a serious and partly successful movement across Suburban America to underground ugly wires (California, with Governor Reagan’s support, required universal undergrounding in 1967). Starting with Huntington in 1964, several towns in still-suburbanizing Suffolk County required most new wiring to be buried.

From the start, a few developers of more exclusive housing colonies were quite willing to pay more for burying wires, and then to use it as a selling point. For most of Nassau County, something always happened to thwart serious efforts to bury vulnerable portions of the overhead power grid.

In 1950, following a series of incidents that included two damaging hurricanes, an airplane strike of high tension wires that blacked out all of Suffolk and much of Nassau, and a horrible double electrocution of workers in a Manhasset backyard, it looked like mass undergrounding was moving forward. Then the Korean War made materials scarce.

In 1971, after Hurricane Daria (250,000 Long Island homes blacked out), the Public Service Commission, which regulated investor-owned utilities like LILCO, proposed mandatory undergrounding of local wires across Long Island. Town and city supervisors lined up to testify against the proposal in the midst of one of the larger school tax revolts, terrified that they’d be blamed for raising rates. The PSC did require undergrounding in new, larger housing developments, as the Federal Housing Adminstration already had six years before. Unfortunately, Nassau County was almost entirely built years before. Many newer complexes kept their lights during Sandy. Underground wires.

After Hurricane Belle in 1976 (532,000 outages) and an infamous ice storm in 1978 (340,000 outages), Governor Carey looked like he’d be the hero to push through a comprehensive undergrounding law. The press speculated that it would be a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, but after a few weeks of tough talk and more property tax problems, he moved on to other things.

In 1954, LILCO warned that burying its wires would quadruple the average $10 a month bill over 45 years. In 1978, with the average bill at $37, the company warned that burying its wires would double bills. Today, the average LIPA bill is about $157.

Something always happened, and it usually involved hysterical claims about rates by the utility, and the fear that motivates most elected officials. Fear of being blamed for anything. Fear of utility services with large budgets for public, government and political relations.

We need grown-ups now. We need answers and options.