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Grassroots Bulletin

March Newsletter


Con Edison's Excellence in Physical Security     

 

In April 2013, firearms were used to sabotage a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) substation in California. While law enforcement officials have yet to make an arrest, publicized reports suggest a planned and coordinated attack, not a random act of violence.

The PG&E attack did not garner public attention at the time, but details have recently emerged in the Wall St. Journal and other sources, focusing national attention on the issue and eliciting reactions by federal lawmakers.

Several U. S. Senate leaders sent letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), asking them to consider drafting and implementing mandatory minimum physical security standards for critical electric infrastructure.  Acting FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur issued a response to the Senate inquiry and has directed the Commission to evaluate the issue. NERC also replied to the inquiry and its comprehensive response can be found here.

While the recent press coverage and political reaction have led some to believe that utilities are not doing enough, the electric industry across the United States and Canada actively work to maintain both the cybersecurity and physical security of their substations, transformers, and other assets. In addition, the industry is subject to mandatory bulk-power system reliability standards that are developed through the NERC and enforced by both the FERC and NERC.

Although no system can be completely immune to threat, Con Edison maintains and regularly updates a comprehensive security plan to protect its critical infrastructure that includes the following:
 
• Security awareness training for employees to remind them they are the first line of defense.

• Periodic inspections and vulnerability assessments of critical facilities.

• A layered approach to surveillance which includes perimeter protection, cameras, recorders, card access, intrusion detection (motion) sensors, alarms, and a 24/7 security operations center.

• Benchmarking against best practices from the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and federal agencies, which determined we currently meet or exceed most of the applicable practices.

• Strong partnerships with Law Enforcement at the city, county, state and federal levels which includes the NYPD and FBI.  One half of Con Edison’s Corporate Security team is comprised of former law enforcement personnel, many of whom have retained their security clearances, which enables Con Edison to receive classified information quickly. 

The industry is also working hand-in-hand with federal agencies to share best practices and resources. In fact, on March 21, Con Edison will host the Department of Energy and Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with a number of security groups and the NERC, for a briefing on the physical security of electricity substations. The briefing is part of a series of meetings around the country for electric infrastructure owners and operators and local law enforcement.


Mayor de Blasio Releases First Budget    

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a $74 billion preliminary New York City budget for fiscal year 2015, representing the first step in the budget negotiation process.  According to de Blasio, the preliminary budget reflects three core values: fiscal responsibility, a progressive agenda, and transparency and honesty.

The budget emphasizes investment in the mayor’s priorities for the city's future such as the paid sick leave act, universal full-day pre-kindergarten, and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) payment relief. 

De Blasio’s budget comes at a time when the city is faced with major fiscal uncertainties.  With an overall $7.8 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery price tag, for which the federal government has only allotted $3.2 billion, the city faces a shortfall of $4 billion. The mayor also faces a major uphill battle with approximately 150 outstanding municipal labor contracts still to be negotiated. The outstanding contracts have prompted New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to warn that greater and immediate attention must be given to the unsettled contracts, as the preliminary budget does not adequately provide for them. He further emphasized that unless the contracts are settled before June 30,  the end of the current fiscal year, de Blasio runs the risk of some of them ending up in arbitration which could cost the city even more.

Highlights of the budget include:

Implementing the Paid Sick Leave Act
The preliminary budget calls for $1.8 million for the city Department of Consumer Affairs to implement and enforce the paid sick leave bill, which provides workers time off to attend to their own health care and the health care of family members. In passing the legislation, de Blasio was also able to restore $4.8 million to the fiscal year 2014 budget for paid sick leave. The mayor and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reached an agreement to expand the right to paid sick leave coverage for approximately 500,000 more New Yorkers (200,000 more than originally covered). The initial version of the legislation covered those workers whose employers had 15 or more employees, but was expanded to cover workers whose employers have five or more employees. The legislation is scheduled to take effect April 1. 

Implementing Universal Pre-Kindergarten and After-School Expansion Program
The fiscal year 2015 preliminary budget includes an additional $530 million in revenue from a .0534 percent increase in the personal income tax rate for households earning more than $500,000 per year. The revenue generated would be used to fund full-day universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. This measure presumes the mayor will be successful in obtaining legislative approval from Albany, allowing the city to raise income taxes on residents.  At this time, the hike seems unlikely since Governor Andrew Cuomo has already proposed $2 billion in statewide funding for universal Pre-K education.

Redirecting Resources into NYCHA Repair and Maintenance
NYCHA has been paying approximately $70 million annually for police services at its facilities. The preliminary budget relieves the remainder of this obligation for 2014, so that the remaining $52.5 million savings can be redirected to address the huge backlog of maintenance repairs.

Read the full text of the Mayor’s Preliminary Budget for Fiscal Year 2015.   


2014 State Energy Plan 

 

In September 2009, a law was passed directing the state to establish a formal process for developing a forward-looking state energy plan.  Chaired by the president and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the State Energy Planning Board was created and charged with the goal of mapping the state’s energy future.  Specifically, the energy planning process is intended to find ways to ensure adequate supplies of power, reduce demand, preserve the environment, reduce dependence on imported gas and oil, and stimulate economic growth.

As outlined in statute, the 2014 Draft State Energy Plan was released in January and focuses on five main factors – energy affordability, enhancing the resilience and flexibility of the electric grid with new technologies, customer choice, energy innovation aligned with market demand, and using private sector financing to achieve clean energy goals.

While Con Edison supports these concepts, we want to ensure the plan is transparent, produces affordable options for our customers, and maintains the reliable service our customers expect and deserve.

Transparency 
Incentives for alternative resources should be transparent, and there should be a mechanism to reduce and eliminate the incentives when they are no longer needed. Con Edison advocated for an analysis of the effectiveness of alternative-resource subsidies and to what extent they are necessary.

Affordability
The affordability of energy is critical, despite changes in how customers use energy and the type of energy they choose. Incentives should encourage technologies that keep service affordable for all customers. Con Edison has begun to integrate customer-sited resources into its system planning efforts, which reduces costs for all customers.  We’re also in favor of facilitating new energy business models. Such models could include providing flexibility to utilities to provide a variety of services to customers, to own or operate distributed resources, or both.

Reliability
Con Edison is making major investments to protect our systems during extreme weather without the assistance of federal funding. These investments need to be supported as part of the State Energy Plan. 


An Interview with Assemblyman David Buchwald 

Prior to joining the State Assembly, David was a member of the White Plains Common Council where he represented 57,000 residents of the City of White Plains. In that role, David was an advocate for the environment, senior citizens, and enhanced budget scrutiny. David authored legislation strengthening the City’s Code of Ethics, combating illegal dumping, improving sidewalk snow removal and establishing the ability of Council Members to have unpaid interns. David also served as Chairman of the White Plains Traffic Commission where he worked to promote efficient traffic rules, pedestrian safety, bicycle access and sensible on-street parking rules.

After graduating from Yale University, where he received a B.S. in Physics, David worked for three years at the Manhattan offices of NERA, an economics research firm headquartered in White Plains. At NERA, David’s research focused on antitrust economics ranging across numerous industries, from cable to music to retail stores. David then went on to receive a J.D., cum laude, from Harvard Law School and a Masters of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. David then worked in the tax department of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, where he represented both business and pro bono clients in need of tax advice.

David grew up in Larchmont, New York, and attended the Mamaroneck public schools. David has lived in White Plains for twelve years.

This is your first term as an Assemblyman, but you previously served as a City Councilman in White Plains. How does serving at the State level differ from serving as a local government official?
I now represent a much larger population of Westchester County in my Assembly District. My district extends from the skyscrapers of White Plains to the horse farms of Bedford and North Salem. But whether I’m representing constituents in local government or in the State capitol, I’m fiercely advocating for the needs of my community’s families and businesses. So indeed, there are similarities, not the least of which is making sure people know that I am always accessible and welcoming of constituents who have a problem that needs solving or have thoughts on a public policy issue.  

You ran on a platform of tax relief and recently lauded Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget proposal for cutting taxes, growing the economy, and creating good-paying jobs. The Governor’s proposal is certainly a move in the right direction, but what else can be done to further this cause?
Governor Cuomo deserves lot of credit for putting tax relief at the top of the agenda for our state budget discussions. That’s a crucial step towards moving New York in the right direction. In addition, I will continue fighting to reduce unfunded mandates that drive up local property taxes and inhibit innovation by municipalities and school districts. I support the State taking over the local share of Medicaid to provide further savings to property taxpayers. And I’m a strong believer that we have to enhance regional and local strengths like our educated workforce and growth industries in order to spur economic development and help our businesses create and retain good-paying jobs.

What are the big issues and challenges you see for 2014 – an election year for the State Legislature and the Governor?
I will continue my commitment to ensuring that our families have a strong voice in Albany. My top priorities are to lessen our overwhelming tax burden, spur economic growth and make sure our schools get their fair share of state funding. I also carry legislation and support efforts to improve ethics in government.
    
You’re a founding member of the recently formed New York State Caucus of Environmental Legislators. Explain the Caucus’ mission and what you hope to accomplish?
The Caucus’ mission is to focus our attention on the need for action on environmental and energy efficiency issues. As a group, we aim to develop legislative and policy issues that will help protect the environment and public health.  I am honored to be a founding member of NYSCEL, and hope that, together with my colleagues in the Assembly and the State Senate, this group will allow us to have a robust dialogue in order to bring meaningful environmental improvements to the people of New York.

Recognizing the need to better align education with in-demand jobs, Governor Cuomo included funding in the Executive Budget to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives. Con Edison is also a strong supporter of STEM education having recently partnered with the New York City Department of Education, CUNY, and LaGuardia Community College to shape the curriculum at the new Energy Tech High School in Queens. There, students are earning high school diplomas, associate degrees, and gaining important industry training and credentials, all for no charge. As the high-tech job sector continues to grow, what else can lawmakers to do to ensure New York has a qualified workforce?  
I was both a physics major in college and an economics researcher in my early professional life, so I take pride in understanding the economic vitality of scientific and high-tech industries. When I was a member of the White Plains City Council, I pushed to rezone office properties to allow scientific research to occur, and shortly thereafter dozens of jobs were brought into those office buildings. As our state’s economy continues to recover, many other scientific, healthcare and manufacturing firms have been steadily creating well-paying jobs with a high-tech concentration. But we need a qualified workforce to fill these jobs because not enough of our young people have been trained for these new opportunities.

I fully support measures that would provide greater access to training programs while closing the gap in skills. And that includes tax credits for research and development to help our businesses become more competitive while providing opportunities for our students. Last year, I helped pass a measure to grant financial assistance for individuals looking to become certified in advanced manufacturing (A.7673) and I look forward to the bill’s passage in the Senate.

 

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