Our beautiful tree canopy is a defining element of the Montgomery County landscape. Our trees improve our environment — both air and water — and their aesthetics improve both the quality of our day-to-day experience of our community and our home values. But if not trimmed properly, trees can adversely impact the reliability of our electric service.
Regrettably, Pepco failed to trim trees for years and, as a result, our reliability did suffer and the Maryland Public Service Commission properly found Pepco to have been imprudent. In response, Pepco is now aggressively trimming trees. And while I do not expect Pepco to become Johnny Appleseed, our citizens should not endure a Paul Bunyan approach either. There is a balance and our legislation seeks that balance.
Contrary to the representation of the May 9 editorial in The Gazette [“Power and Control: The council’s attempt to over-regulate Pepco’s tree trimming is meddlesome”] the legislation that Councilmember Marc Elrich and I have introduced actually helps Pepco increase the reliability of our grid without adding to Pepco's regulatory burden. Our legislation would give Pepco additional authority — authority it requested from our council in those rare instances in which a homeowner refuses to allow Pepco to trim a tree that poses an imminent hazard to their lines.
In addition to that new authority, our legislation calls for a “Citizen's Rights” provision. Pepco will be required to explain in writing to private landowners the homeowner's rights when Pepco seeks permission to trim trees on their property. This provision was a result of numerous complaints the council has received from citizens who were intimidated and misinformed by Pepco representatives and by past Pepco practices in which they left notices saying that if a homeowner did not respond in 48 hours, silence would be deemed consent to Pepco's plan for their property.
The legislation also requires Pepco to file with the county exactly the same tree-trimming plans that it files with the Maryland Public Service Commission. We impose no further regulatory burden. But here is what the bill does do — we ensure that Pepco is held locally accountable for trimming in accordance with the standards the commission has established. Montgomery County can and should play a constructive role in protecting its resources. Indeed, our county fought for and obtained language in the reliability regulations just adopted by the commission that explicitly provide for the rights of local governments in this area.
As The Gazette editorial noted, our council has played a significant role in ensuring that Pepco will improve its reliability and we are proud of the contribution our council has made to this fundamental quality of life issue. Pepco is improving, and we are pleased with their progress, but that progress does not have to come at the expense of our environment.
Our legislation strikes the right balance by increasing reliability, accountability and our citizens’ understanding of their rights.
Roger BerlinerThe writer, a Democrat from Bethesda, is the Montgomery County Council President and chair of the council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment.