East Coast storm wrecks electrical infrastructure. Citizens ask: Where’s the government? Where’s the leadership?

One storm, millions suffer.One storm, millions suffer.

Nothing like a big storm-induced power outage to introduce our  big city dwellers to the sorry state of our national infrastructure.

I’m speaking of the thunderstorms that swept across the mid-Atlantic states six days ago and left millions without power, a half million still in the dark today.

The Atlantic’s Gregg Easterbrook reports that the failure to respond efficiently to the outages in Maryland may have killed the prospects of it’s governor, who had been on the short list for Democratic party’s 2016 White House hopes.  Great deck under the headline: 

“Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to run for president in 2016, but he can’t even deal with a dismal power utility in his own state.”

Can anyone say: “Heck of a job Brownie.”

This is emblematic on several levels. Politicians, increasingly turn their backs on the basics of government and spend more and more of their time trying to get elected or raise money to get elected. What doesn’t feed that money machine, doesn’t get done; and that includes good roads, schools, defense, law and order, and infrastructure.

Easterbrook continues: 

“Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the nation’s bluest and wealthiest counties; its perennially awful power service raises the question of whether the liberals can make the trains run on time.”

Good observation, except it’s not just liberals. See Katrina, Bush, Brownie–maybe the biggest goat rodeo in the history of our nation and proof that the Republicans, at least in our nation’s capitol, are no better than the Democrats, when it comes to disaster response and the fundamentals of government.

(I should point out that the Republican governors of Alabama and Mississippi, both responded with efficiency and dispatch to Katrina. Perhaps that’s because both had run hurricane response drills that involved everybody in the state government. They had action plans ready to execute with a single phone call.) 

The second rumble to come out of the storms last week was a renewed call for burying our electrical utility lines underground.  People want it. It would end all these never-ending power outages, but the utilities balk. They say it’s too expensive. Expensive it is, but nobody’s counting the cost of the hundreds of millions of dollars of lost productivity and disruption that happen at  least a dozen times every year in this country. East Coasters quickly came up with a scary sounding name for last week’s storm, calling it a “derecho” which more or less means a straight line storm with strong winds. But come on: it was a thunderstorm. 

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And speaking of expense, Pepco is utility in charge of providing electricity for Maryland’s most populated county. Easterbrook again: 

From 2008 to 2010, Pepco CEO Joe Rigby earned $8.8 million and Pepco top officers earned more than $22 million. During that same period, Pepco reported $882 million in profits…and received $817 million in tax refunds…yet as the money rolled in, the Maryland Public Service Commission allowed Pepco to cut back on maintenance, in order to divert funds to dividends and management bonuses…CEO Rigby is a major shareholder, so in effect awards himself a commission when he keeps infrastructure spending low and dividends high. 

Burying electrical lines underground would take time and money. The utilities are too invested in their bucket trucks and linemen capabilities to do this on their own. Obama and the democratically controlled Congress burned through $800+ billion of stimulus money three years ago. He paid lip service to infrastructure, but infrastructure got less than seven percent of that. Now we have almost nothing to show for it and a half million people in the dark, unable to enjoy air conditioning or refrigerated food on July 4th, the day we celebrate our nation’s birthday,  because of one strong thunderstorm.

The United States is the only major developed country that puts the majority of it’s electrical infrastructure above ground. I lived in Germany for three years and never once did we have a power outage. Here in the U.S., the power goes out at my house at least two dozen times a year. Light of the world? Not until we get new leadership.