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NY gov orders investigation of utilities

Michael Gormley, Assocated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered an investigation into how utility companies prepared for and reacted to Superstorm Sandy, which knocked out power to more than 2 million customers and left some without electricity for two weeks and counting.

Cuomo ordered the probe under the state's powerful Moreland Commission law that provides for subpoenas and other action. He previously had threatened to hold public hearings on his concerns and has repeatedly criticized the utilities for what he considers slow progress restoring power to customers from Long Island to the Hudson Valley.

The commission will be run by former Attorney General Robert Abrams and Cuomo's financial services director, Benjamin Lawsky.

"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," Cuomo said. "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."

Cuomo said he will examine the performance of Consolidated Edison Co., New York State Electric & Gas Corp., and operations of National Grid under the Long Island Power Authority.

Cuomo said the commission will also change what he calls overlapping responsibilities and missions of LIPA and the New York Power Authority, the state Public Service Commission that regulates utilities, and an energy research agency.

Cuomo was faulted this week for his criticism of LIPA even though he appoints most of its members. On Monday, however, he described LIPA as a holding company that was created for political purposes to operate between state government and the provider of power, National Grid.

The New York Post says Cuomo should look to himself for ways to make LIPA more accountable and The Daily News' Bill Hammond wrote Tuesday that Cuomo's failure to make LIPA work better is a "doozy" of a "screw up."

LIPA is a state authority that was created separate of state agencies so it could more easily borrow money without legislative approval. But Cuomo has filled just one of his nine seats on the LIPA board, with no permanent CEO.

Cuomo also directed the state inspector general to audit LIPA a year ago and he severely criticized the authority after Irene, calling for changes then.

Former Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, however, stated that the authority's reform act he authored prohibits Cuomo from giving direct orders to LIPA. Brodsky said the authority's boards are directly responsible for carrying out the mission and that LIPA's performance has been hurt by the lack of a permanent CEO.