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Utility Companies Accountable Under Proposed Bill

State Sen. Kevin O'Toole wants PSE&G, JCP&L and others to improve response times during emergency situations.

A North Jersey state senator is proposing legislation to cut down on the long lines at gas stations and ensure residents are safe during emergencies.

State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Cedar Grove) is co-sponsoring the New Jersey Residents Power Protection Act. The legislation would hold utility companies accountable for their response times during emergencies. It would also require gas stations and other facilities to have generators on hand to ensure residents have access to power and gasoline during emergencies situations.

“It was apocalyptic in North Jersey in the days following Hurricane Sandy,” O’Toole said. “Sometimes, there was no evidence of any activity by the power companies at all.”

O’Toole spoke regularly with several North Jersey mayors, including Chris Vergano of Wayne and Paul Aronsohn of Ridgewood, about the lack of progress PSE&G, JCP&L and Orange and Rockland were making in restoring power to hundreds of thousands of North Jersey residents.

“He personally assisted the township in finding fuel supplies to keep the township in business so our Department of Public Works and fire trucks could respond to residents during the storm,” Wyckoff Mayor Chris DePhillips said. “He also worked hand-in-hand with me to apply strong pressure on both PSE&G and Orange & Rockland to get the necessary restoration crews into Wyckoff.”

PSE&G cut the power to the only overnight shelter in Ridgewood for eight hours Nov. 4.

Several mayors, including Vergano, and Aronsohn, publically criticized the power companies for their lack of preparedness and response to Sandy.

The RPPA would require assisted living facilities, firehouses and gas stations, among other facilities, to have emergency generators running during power outages.

New grocery stores, including smaller ones like Quick Chek, would be required to install a generator on their property. Small businesses could apply for a tax deduction for installing a generator.

“This will help utility companies in restoring power and clearing roadways with the relief that the critical need facilities are operating,” O’Toole said. “Vendors were delivering fuel to towns so their emergency vehicles could be fueled.”

The RPPA would require the state Board of Public Utilities to develop and enforce performance benchmarks for power companies.

Companies would be required to file a service reliability plan and an emergency communications strategic plan.

The bill would increase the civil penalties utility companies would pay for violating rules enforced by the BPU.

Penalties would increase from $100 a day to $25,000 for each violation up to $2 million. Penalties would go into a special fund. The BPU would use the funds to increase service quality and reliability.

Cracking Down on Price Gouging, Scam Artists

O’Toole is also sponsoring proposed legislation that would increase the penalty for burglary in a municipality where a state of emergency has been declared. The charge would be upgraded from a third-degree to a second-degree offense.

The legislation could be expanded to include trespassing and theft by deception to curb price gouging by gas stations. Two Newark gas stations were accused of price gouging in the aftermath of Sandy.

If expanded, the legislation would help stop illicit contractors from attempting to scam residents out of their money. These scam artists go door-to-door promising residents to fix their damaged homes. Once they receive their deposits they leave and don’t perform the work.

That bill is still being drafted and has not been introduced yet.

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