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Merkley, Wyden urge states to impose moratorium on utility shutoffs, rate hikes

KTVZ file

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., along with six of Senate colleagues, introduced a congressional resolution Monday urging states and utility companies to issue a moratorium on gas and electric service disconnections, late fees, reconnection fees, rate hikes, and other penalties due to the national emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although various utility companies in Oregon have voluntarily committed to protect their communities’ utility access, many states, including Oregon, have not used their authority to govern electric and gas rates to order all utilities to take this vital action, the lawmakers said.

“The last thing anyone in Oregon needs as we grapple with the economic consequences of this public health crisis is the loss of essential utilities like electricity and gas,” said Merkley. “Oregonians—and Americans across the country—deserve to know that as we weather this storm together, they will still have access to these critical services. My hope is that each state will take the actions outlined in this resolution in order to ensure that every family has that security and peace of mind during this challenging time.”

"Oregon families are struggling after being hit by an economic wrecking ball in the last few weeks. They don't need the added stress of losing their power, paying unaffordable late fees or hiked utility bills as they deal with this public health crisis," Wyden said. "Making sure Oregonians have access to these critical services is a must." 

With thousands of Americans losing their jobs each day and small businesses struggling, many American families will face a difficult shortfall when it comes time to pay their next utility bills. The coronavirus pandemic, in which many families are self-quarantining inside their homes, will surely amplify the consequences of utility shut-offs.

Specifically, the resolution urges states and gas and electric utilities to take action to ensure that:

  1. No electric or natural gas service to a consumer is terminated;
  2. Reasonable efforts are made to safely reconnect electric and natural gas consumers that have lost service;
  3. No electric or natural gas consumer is charged for reconnection services;
  4. Late fees and other penalties are waived for electric and natural gas consumers; and
  5. No increases in cost-of-service to electric and natural gas consumers are instituted.

Previously, Merkley and his co-chairs of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus led a group of senators in pushing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to include protections for Americans against utility shut-offs in the third coronavirus relief package. Their call echoed the concerns of over 575 organizations across America—including the NAACP, the Sunrise Movement, Center for Biological Diversity, Partnership for Southern Equity, and the Sierra Club—citing the importance of having utility access during pandemics and climate disasters.

Merkley and Wyden were joined in introducing the legislation by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

The full text of the resolution is available here.

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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