D.C. coalition emerges to oppose Exelon-Pepco merger

D.C. coalition emerges to oppose Exelon-Pepco merger

As regulators dig in, ‘Power D.C.’ group says $6.8 billion deal is bad for the District.

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, December 18 at 4:20 PM

Pepco employee James Tarantella climbs out of a bucket after responding to a power outage call on Aug. 13, 2012, in Rockville, Md. (Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

As District regulators start probing the Pepco-Exelon deal, a coalition of environmental, political and consumer activist groups is raising concerns about the proposed $6.8 billion merger that would swallow D.C.’s homegrown electric utility.

The D.C. Public Service Commission on Wednesday evening held the first of four public hearings on Pepco’s proposed acquisition by Exelon, a larger Chicago-based firm. The hearing attracted many dozens of witnesses and stretched over five hours.

Before Wednesday’s hearing, a coalition calling itself “Power D.C.” unveiled a campaign seeking to derail the merger, which the group says will result in higher bills and lower reliability for Pepco customers. The coalition includes 20 groups, including the Sierra Club, the D.C. Environmental Network, Public Citizen, D.C. Working Families and the Statehood Green Party.

“The merger reverses the District’s progress on local renewable energy and energy efficiency, and it moves decision making for the District’s grid from here in D.C. to a powerful corporation’s headquarters in Chicago,” says Power D.C.’s Web site. “Exelon’s corporate interests are not aligned with the policy objectives of the District of Columbia, and Exelon’s acquisition of Pepco is not in the public interest.”

When the proposed merger was announced in April, Exelon and Pepco said the deal would benefit customers in part by providing $100 million in benefits to be spent across the Pepco Holdings territory in not only D.C., but Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

Those benefits, the companies said, could include bill credits, efficiency improvements or other measures approved by state-level regulators. The companies also said the merger would improve efforts already underway to improve reliability for Pepco customers, including better recovery efforts after large storms, and would result in “more opportunities” for Pepco employees.

Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel said in a statement that the merger continues to be a good deal and that both companies “are open to feedback and discussions with all stakeholders.”

“That said,” she continued, “we believe that the facts — which are available in the testimony we’ve filed with the commission and other information we have provided — will show that this merger is in the public interest and will benefit customers and the community.”

The merger plan has already come under fire in D.C. from People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye, a public ratepayer advocate, who said last month that any benefit from the $14 million the merged utility proposes to spend in the District “is consumed by the uncertainty (and risk) associated with the three ‘R’s: Reliability, Rates and Renewables — all major areas where this application falls short.”

While consumer advocates in the Power D.C. coalition are concerned about more distant management and the potential for rate hikes, environmental advocates are concerned about Exelon’s large portfolio of nuclear power plants and what they deem an uncertain commitment to renewable energy.

Chris Weiss of the D.C. Environmental Network said the District has set ambitious renewable energy goals in its citywide sustainability plan and in legislated portfolio standards. And the city has started to embrace “distributed power” models like the much-touted Mount Pleasant Solar Energy Cooperative, which allows homeowners to use their own solar energy and even sell it back to the grid.

“What we’ve seen with Exelon’s business model is that they really don’t believe in distributed energy,” Weiss said. Instead, he said, Exelon appears to be focused on maintaining its nuclear and fossil-fuel generation business, whereas Pepco has been out of the generation business for years.

Said Oppel, “Like Pepco, Exelon is committed to conducting its business in ways that minimize environmental impacts, and renewables are a critical component of its efforts to advance clean energy.”

James Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, also testified in support of the merger. He explained Thursday that joining with the larger Exelon would allow Pepco to recommit to improving its reliability and that it reflects larger trends in the electric industry.

“Exelon is the biggest and the best in the industry, and it gives you those advantages,” he said. “I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but … this is what growth, progress and success looks like.”

There was some community testimony in support of the merger, as well. Maria Gomez, the founder and chief executive of Mary’s Center, a family clinic in Adams Morgan, said she told the commission about Pepco’s efforts to restore power to her clinic during the 2010 blizzard, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of vaccines. She said she’d pressed Pepco and Exelon officials on whether they would maintain their charitable and community commitments and was satisfied with the responses she’d heard.

In an interview Thursday, Gomez said she and others would “keep a watchful eye” should the merger move forward: “If we see anything that deviates from they’ve promised, we’ll call them on it,” she said. “I’ll be the first one to do it.”

Both companies’ boards have approved the merger, as has the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But it still has to pass muster with state-level regulatory bodies in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the District.

The approval process is being watched particularly closely in Maryland, whose regulators are considered the most aggressive of those evaluating the deal. A report commissioned by the Maryland Public Service Commission concluded this month that the customer investments proposed there were deeply insufficient, according to a Baltimore Sun report.

The review process in the District will culminate in a weeklong evidentiary hearing, scheduled for Feb. 9 through 13, where the commission will determine whether the merger is in the best interests of ratepayers, shareholders and the District at large. A determination on the merger will be issued at a subsequent date.

The D.C. Public Service Commission has scheduled three public hearings before then, all at 6 p.m.:

Jan. 6, Thurgood Marshall Academy, 2427 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Jan. 12 — Southwest Library, 900 Wesley Place SW
Jan. 20 — University of the District of Columbia Community College, 801 North Capitol St. NE

Correction, 5:35 p.m.: This post initially reported only two dozen witnesses testified Wednesday. That was based on a list of “walk-in” witnesses provided by the Public Service Commission; more than 60 more had pre-registered for the hearing.


Bowser names Tommy Wells director of D.C. Environment Department

Bowser names Tommy Wells director of D.C. Environment Department

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, December 19 at 12:09 PM

Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser (D) is tapping a familiar face to run her Department of the Environment: D.C. Council colleague and former mayoral campaign rival Tommy Wells.

“As Tommy’s friend and colleague, I have witnessed first-hand the passion he has for conservation, clean transportation and creating a more sustainable District,” Bowser said in statement on her first agency director appointment. “With Tommy’s experience and enthusiasm, we will create new and innovative policies to make the District the most environmentally-friendly city in the nation.”

Wells, 57, is relinquishing the Ward 6 seat on Jan. 2 after eight years, having given up a likely third term to seek the Democratic mayoral nomination. He finished third in the April 1 Democratic primary behind Bowser and outgoing Mayor Vincent C. Gray. After the primary, he became a strong Bowser supporter, helping her outpoll independent David A. Catania in Wells’s closely contested home ward.

He will become the first former D.C. Council member to serve in a mayoral Cabinet position.

Wells, a former child social worker for the city, built his reputation as a council member as a champion for “livable, walkable neighborhoods” — advocating car-free lifestyles and pushing for public transit investments. But on the environmental front, he is best-known as the political architect of the city’s 5-cent disposable bag tax, which environmental advocates have credited with reducing trash in city waterways.

Wells, who chaired a committee for the Bowser transition effort, will replace Keith Anderson, who took over the environmental agency in 2012 after Gray dismissed director Christoph Tulou. Prominent environmental groups in the city raised questions about Tulou’s firing and never quite warmed to Anderson.

Bowser already has named several members of her senior management staff, including Rashad M. Young as city administrator, Kevin Donahue as his deputy, and two deputy mayors: Jennie Niles overseeing education and Brenda Donald overseeing health and human services.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.

The two paragraphs derailing D.C.’s pot plan

The two paragraphs derailing D.C.’s pot plan

By The Washington Post December 10 at 1:50 PM

Two paragraphs tucked into the 1,600-page federal budget agreement released Tuesday night would preclude D.C. from enacting any measures weakening federal drug laws in the District.

The language sought by conservative House Republicans appeared likely to suspend the will of D.C. voters who passed marijuana legalization last month by a margin of more than 2 to 1. It also seemed certain to keep D.C. lawmakers from taking the next step of setting up a regulatory system to sell and tax marijuana legally.

Here are the two paragraphs as they appear on pages 660 and 661 that are poised to derail D.C.’s pot initiative:

Rashad Young, Alexandria city manager, is Bowser’s pick to run D.C. government

Rashad Young, Alexandria city manager, is Bowser’s pick to run D.C. government

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, December 8 at 10:37 PM

With less than a month until she takes office, D.C. Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser is set to start unveiling her choices to run the District government Tuesday, naming Alexandria’s top executive as her city administrator.

Rashad M. Young, 38, who has served as Alexandria city manager for the past three years, will step into the job after Bowser is inaugurated Jan. 2.

The transition office disclosed Bowser’s plans Monday evening to The Washington Post.

“Rashad has a track record of success, the experience to get results, and the energy to execute my ambitious agenda for all eight wards,” Bowser (D) said in a statement. “Our approach to governing is straightforward: using the best practices, technology and talent to deliver services efficiently to the residents and businesses of Washington, D.C.”

In moving from Alexandria to the District, Young will have a much larger staff and much more responsibility. The Virginia city employs about 3,700 and has a $624 million local operating budget. The District government employs nearly 35,000 and has a local budget in excess of $6 billion yearly.

Young, Alexandria’s first African American city manager, was widely rumored to be in line for a federal job earlier this fall.

As the city’s executive, Young is credited with tightening up processes and procedures, stopping across-the-board pay raises for city employees, and cutting 33 city jobs last spring. He also negotiated a $5 million buyout of the Old Dominion Boat Club on Alexandria’s waterfront, which allowed a long-planned and contentious waterfront redevelopment plan to move forward.

Young will replace Allen Y. Lew, who handled a number of high-profile projects for outgoing Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), including negotiations with the D.C. United pro soccer team that culminated in plans to make way for a $300 million soccer stadium that were approved by the D.C. Council this month.

Lew also played a lead role in planning several other large-scale projects, including a $1 billion joint venture between the city and Pepco to bury troublesome power lines and an ambitious effort with D.C. Water to end sewer flooding in the Bloomingdale neighborhood by accelerating plans for a storage tunnel in the area.

Lew was less known for managing the day-to-day operations of government.

The Gray administration ditched an accountability system known as CapStat that had been a pet project of predecessor Adrian M. Fenty (D). That model pushed agencies to set ambitious, measurable goals and closely track progress toward those goals in concert with analysts in the mayor’s office. Agency management under Lew has been less rigorously structured, giving directors more freedom to run their departments.

Bowser may seek to move the District government back to the Fenty model. In Alexandria, Young established an Office of Performance and Accountability, according to a city biography, to “develop a culture and practice of performance management and data-driven decision making.”

In a statement provided by the Bowser transition team, Young said he has been charged with “helping to form a more transparent, accountable city government that delivers the best municipal services on time and on budget.”

In 2011, Young was hired at a salary of $245,000. Lew’s salary is $295,000. The post of city administrator is not subject to D.C. Council approval.

Bowser aides could not say Monday whether Lew would be offered another position inside the D.C. government.

Young has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Dayton. He is married to Tameka Jones-Young, has two children and resides in Alexandria. He was previously city manager of Greensboro, N.C., and Dayton, Ohio.

Other appointments will be announced before Christmas, the Bowser aides said.

The rollout of Bowser’s nominees was delayed, they said, by the Nov. 23 death of former mayor Marion Barry (D), which dominated attention in the District the past two weeks. “She wanted to be respectful,” one aide said.

Bowser has committed to keeping two agency heads: D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier. Other key Gray administration personnel could be asked to stay on temporarily or permanently, she said after winning election on Nov. 4.

Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.

Brandon Todd will seek Ward 4 D.C. Council seat, with Bowser’s blessing

Brandon Todd will seek Ward 4 D.C. Council seat, with Bowser’s blessing

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, December 4

Todd, 31, has Bowser’s blessing to claim her Ward 4 seat. (Mike DeBonis/The Washington Post)

The last time the Ward 4 D.C. Council seat changed hands, in 2007, it had the feeling of a dynastic succession: Adrian M. Fenty, the presumptive mayor, tapped a little-known advisory neighborhood commissioner, Muriel E. Bowser, to run with his support in the special election. Bowser won comfortably.

Seven years later, with Bowser set to assume the mayoralty, a similar dynamic is at play: Brandon T. Todd, a longtime aide to Bowser, said Thursday he will seek his boss’s seat. And Bowser, in brief remarks at the John A. Wilson Building, said Todd is running with her support.

“He’s going to make a great council member,” she said.

Todd, 31, was most recently the finance director for Bowser’s mayoral campaign. He is also chairman of the Ward 4 Democrats, managed Bowser’s 2012 reelection campaign and served in Bowser’s council office as her constituent services director. Todd graduated from Eastern High School and has degrees from Bowie State University and Trinity Washington University.

Todd confirmed his plans Thursday and said he would be more forthcoming with details on Monday when he plans to pick up ballot petitions for the April 28 special election.

“I’m going to work hard,” he said. “I’m going to knock on every door in Ward 4.”

Todd can expect to run with the full support of Bowser’s political and fundraising operation, which raised $3.6 million for the mayoral race and won the general election by nearly 20 points. But ambitious door-knocking is a playbook Bowser and Fenty know well. Both were in the Wilson Building Thursday — together with fellow Ward 4 council members Charlene Drew Jarvis and Arrington Dixon — who had gathered for the beginning of memorial services for former mayor Marion Barry.

Numerous candidates are expected in both the Ward 4 race, as well as in the Ward 8 race to succeed Barry, who died last month at 78.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.

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Citizens and civic leaders turn out to remember former mayor Marion Barry

Citizens and civic leaders turn out to remember former mayor Marion Barry

By Mike DeBonis and Paul Schwartzman December 4 at 3:14 PM

The remains of Marion Barry lay at city hall Thursday, where civic leaders, veterans of the civil rights movement and ordinary citizens honored the former mayor who arrived in the District nearly 40 years ago as a little-known activist and became its most celebrated politician.

After a royal blue hearse arrived at 8:30 a.m., a police honor guard carried Barry’s casket up the steps to the entrance of the John A. Wilson Building, where Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) waited.

The casket passed a line of leaders who included Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser (D), the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, past and present members of the D.C. Council, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and former mayors Sharon Pratt, Anthony A. Williams and Adrian M. Fenty.

Inside the Wilson Building’s grand marble lobby, Barry’s widow, Cora Masters Barry, and his son, Christopher, sat facing his closed casket, which was covered with a kente cloth and dozens of roses.

Mendelson called it a “sad day” for the District government, of which Barry was a reigning figure for nearly five decades.

Three days of memorial events have begun for longtime D.C. mayor Marion Barry. His casket arrived Thursday morning at the Wilson Building, where the public is paying their respects. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

“It is fitting that we are here to bring Mr. Barry to city hall one last time,” Mendelson said.

Barry, 78, the council member from Ward 8 and former four-term mayor, died Nov. 23 after years of declining health.

His casket was to remain at city hall for public viewing until Friday morning, part of a three-day commemoration that will end Saturday with a memorial at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Barry’s tenure was a spectrum of soaring political triumphs and embarrassing personal lows relating to his battles with drug and alcohol abuse. As mourners filed by his casket, they said they were mindful of the former mayor’s complexities.

Darryl Washington, 49, a graphic designer, wore a self-designed, silver-on-black T-shirt that read “Marion Barry: Mayor for Life.”

Like many of the mourners, Washington got a summer job from a Barry program, and he said the former mayor made a big impression later in Washington’s life when he struggled with drugs.

“A lot of his experiences, I’ve experienced myself,” Washington said. “Whatever demons he had, he still continued to press.

“Now I’ve been fortunate enough to start my own business,” Washington continued. “There have been bumps and bruises, but I kept on pushing. He had his struggles, but he didn’t lose his primary purpose, which was to help somebody.”

The mourners included Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and John Lewis (D-Ga.), who knew Barry from their days leading the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized civil rights actions in the South during the 1960s. Representatives from the embassies of Zimbabwe and South Africa, nations Barry visited as mayor, paid their respects.

Jackson, who will eulogize Barry on Saturday, called him a “freedom fighter” who was among those “who put their lives on the line to integrate this country.”

“He was a long-distance runner,” Jackson said. “He came to Washington and tore down walls in Washington.”

Williams described his fellow former mayor as a “Napoleonic figure” who “had his detractors, but he had his admirers.”

“He did many great things,” Williams said. “He had his flaws; he had his failings. But he left an indelible impact on the city.”

The Rev. Jim Dickerson, executive director of affordable housing developer Manna, recalled hosting one of Barry’s last public events: a ribbon-cutting for a 24-unit apartment complex in Anacostia built with city subsidies and affordable to people with incomes of $30,000 or less.

“He started all of the programs, basically, that we continue to build on,” Dickerson said. “His commitment to that never went away, even with his personal problems.”

An hour before Barry’s casket was to arrive, a handful of people had gathered outside the Wilson Building, waiting to pay their respects.

Bernard Barker, a 53-year-old laborer from Anacostia, was first in line. He recalled meeting Barry as a schoolboy in the early 1970s when Barry was leading Pride Inc., the group he co-founded that helped put poor African American children to work.

“Marion Barry was a very good man,” Barker said. “The people of D.C., we was behind Marion Barry. If he would have run for mayor again, I think he would have won it again.”

On the Wilson Building steps, longtime Logan Circle activist John Fanning wore a button from Barry’s 1986 mayoral campaign. “Making a great city even greater,” it said.

“He reminded me of a prize fighter,” Fanning said. “He kept getting knocked down and getting back up.”

Barry’s family planned the three days of memorial events in conjunction with city officials and based on the former mayor’s wishes, which he detailed months before his death.

On Friday, Barry’s funeral motorcade is scheduled to leave the Wilson Building at 9:30 a.m. and go to the Temple of Praise, on the city’s southeast border, for a public viewing and memorial. The church is in Ward 8, which Barry represented on the council for 12 years.

The motorcade will travel through Wards 6 and 8, not through all eight of the city’s wards as originally discussed.

A bigger farewell is scheduled for Saturday at the Convention Center, which could accommodate as many as 14,000 people, said Greg O’Dell, the center’s chief executive.

The District government is bearing most of the cost of Barry’s farewell, but private fundraising is underway to supplement the public spending.

By Thursday, T-shirt vendors peddling “Mayor for Life” garb had set up in front of the Wilson Building as well as on street corners leading from Metro Center.

Oliver W. Johnson Jr. brought his own creation: a painting of Barry, arm in the air, standing in front of the Capitol with another District icon, musician Chuck Brown, who died two years ago.

The piece was not for sale, Johnson said.

“There’s a void there, but the legacy they created was tremendous,” Johnson, 61, said. “They engraved their mark on the face of the city.”

Aaron C. Davis, Hamil R. Harris and Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.

UberX, Sidecar, Lyft drivers could face issues with personal insurance coverage

UberX, Sidecar, Lyft drivers could face issues with personal insurance coverage

By Lori Aratani, Washington Post, December 1 at 2:50 PM

A Lyft car drives next to a taxi in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

It looks like the question of insurance coverage may finally be catching up with people who drive for app-based services such at uberX, Lyft and Sidecar.

An internal sales training document from insurance giant Geico obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle outlines how the company is dealing with drivers when it becomes aware they are using their vehicles to give paid rides as part of the popular ride-sharing services. Essentially, drivers that acknowledge they are using their cars for commercial purposes will be told they should seek coverage from another company, the newspaper reports. Geico declined to comment on the document, but a spokeswoman for an insurance trade group expressed its view of the situation to the The Chronicle.

“Private passenger auto policy isn’t intended to cover livery services,” said Nicole Mahrt Ganley, a spokeswoman for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. “There is little question that engaging in livery services is a material change in the nature of the risk being insured, and most states would allow companies to cancel coverage in those situations.”

The app-based transportation companies have altered their insurance policies following a high profile crash in San Francisco, where a six-year-old girl was struck and killed by a person driving for Uber as the little girl was in a crosswalk with her mother and brother. Sofia Liu died on New Year’s Eve. Her family later filed suit. Initially, Uber officials said they were not responsible because the driver was not was not “providing services on the Uber system during the time of the accident.”

Since then however, Uber and others have agreed to provide primary insurance coverage from the time the driver accepts a call until the passenger is dropped off. However, when drivers are not carrying a passenger or have not yet accepted a call the question of responsibility remains murky. As part of legislation passed by the D.C. Council, which Uber officials hailed as a model for other communities seeking to regulate such services, the driver or the service would be required to provide coverage.

Drivers for low-cost app-based services such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar use their personal vehicles to give rides to individuals. They do not work for the services, but rather act as independent contractors.

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Still, if drivers begin running into trouble with their personal insurance carriers — or worse if they lose their coverage — that might force the companies or the drivers to rethink the current arrangement. Or it might mean insurance companies will focus on creating new policies that cover people who driver for the services.

The Chronicle notes:

Several insurance companies are working to craft hybrid policies — personal car insurance with “endorsements” to cover drivers when they work through Lyft, Uber or Sidecar, especially during the time in which they have signed into the companies’ apps but have not yet received a ride request. A California law taking effect July 1 that requires more coverage spurred insurers to develop the products. The ride companies’ $1 million policies don’t apply until drivers are matched with a paying customer.

Lori Aratani writes about how people live, work and play in the D.C. region for The Post’s Transportation and Development team.