Advocates for Disabled Call on PUC, Davis to Address Blackout Concerns
With more rolling blackouts likely in the coming months, members of the Oakland-based Disability Rights Advocates are asking Gov. Gray Davis (D) and the California Public Utilities Commission to implement a "comprehensive statewide system" to ensure that people with disabilities "do not fall through the energy crisis safety net," the Los Angeles Times reports. The group has asked for a statewide early-warning system, charging stations for use during blackouts, funds to purchase backup batteries and generators and an emergency hotline. Activists also are asking the state to investigate "remedies" for long term energy problems, including rate increases. The group -- which sent letters to Davis, the PUC and Judge Dennis Montali, who is presiding over Pacific Gas & Electric's recent bankruptcy filing -- said that it might consider a class action lawsuit if the request is not met. Shawna Parks, who is representing the disability advocacy group, said, "We want an organized system that addresses some very serious needs. And as for any lawsuit, if this doesn't happen, we're not closing any doors." Anita Gore, spokesperson for the Department of Health Services, said, "This is all relatively new, so we're gearing up to address concerns of the disabled and everyone else." PUC Commissioner Carl Wood added that he "would be open to any suggestions to assist the sick, elderly and disabled" if blackouts continue.
But with PG&E facing bankruptcy and some other utilities potentially in the same situation, Wood said that some officials "might question the wisdom of giving [utilities] new mandates when there may be no money to fund them." He added, "The goals are reasonable. The question is where the money comes from." Dan Quigley, PG&E's director of emergency communications, said the company has about 22,000 customers on life-support machines, and another 48,000 customers are part of a program that offers reduced electrical rates because of a medical condition. He said, "We didn't design the system to shut people off and cause them inconvenience. We're eager to work with the PUC and disabled advocates to figure out a system that reduces the disruption." However, some of the advocates' suggestions --including community battery charging stations -- "would be better served by state emergency response groups," Quigley said (Glionna, Los Angeles Times, 5/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.