Controversy Swirls Over New Jersey and New York's Response to Storms and the Pandemic

Aug 7, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is creating debate over how monies are spent in New Jersey and New York
Credit Angela Hsieh for NPR News

Some angry residents in New Jersey and New York still don’t have power in their homes after Tropical Storm Isaias brought it strong winds and rains to both states, knocking down power lines and trees nearly everywhere.   PSEG officials say it's asking for help from utilities across the U.S. and Canada to help restore electricity. The tropical storm knocked out power about 575-thousand of that utility’s customers. Burlington County in South Jersey along with Bergen and Essex counties in North Jersey bore the brunt of the outages. Kim Hanemann, the utility's Chief Operating Officer, says Isaias is among the most powerful storms to hit their service territory.  

"Sandy by far was the number one storm that have impacted us. And i had the pleasure of working through all of those storms here at Public Service. So, Floyd was about 310-thousand customers impacted. Irene was about 810-thousand customers impacted.”

But unlike Sandy and other storms, there is another element the utility company employees had to contend with. 

"Employees safe, too." We have the additional challenge of the COVID protocols that we've put in place to keep customers safe and keep our employees safe, too".

Most PSEG customers had their power restored by Thursday, however, it could be Monday morning before full restoration is complete. Hanemann says that forecast depends on the number of crews its able to get from out-of-state.

Some mayors criticized JCP&L's reaction to restoring electricity to it's customers.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday declared a State of Emergency for New York City as well as Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk, and Rockland counties in order to provide local governments with additional clean-up and operational support in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias.

The New Jersey Republican party and several GOP lawmakers are suing the state over a plan to borrow nearly 10-billion dollars to recover from the pandemic.  The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case on Wednesday.

Republicans say Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat, should NOT be able to borrow nearly 10-billion dollars without voter approval just to balance the budget.

Michael Testa, a Republican state senator and an attorney for the plaintiffs, says any emergency borrowing should be tied directly to the pandemic recovery.

"COVID-19 has been a disaster that's been felt worldwide, nationwide, statewide, that doesn't give the authority to our governor and the legislature to essentially write a blank check to be used for anything."

But an attorney for the state argued that the pandemic was a public health crisis that caused a financial crisi and that it would take a major investment to dig out.  

The state Supreme Court did not say when it would issue a ruling in the case.

 New York City authorities will be monitoring bridges, tunnels and transit hubs to better enforce the out of state coronavirus quarantine rules. Mayor Bill de Blasio says authorities will gather information from those coming in from the 35 high risk states and territories that are supposed to quarantine for 14 days.  But Rob Ortt, the New York State Senate Republican leader, slammed de Blasio's decision to implement checkpoints. He says the  Mayor should instead focus his energy on assisting the city's struggling small businesses and developing a clear plan to safely reopen the schools.