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Montgomery County Holds Hearing On Tree-Trimming Bill

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A program to trim and cut down trees in Montgomery County was proposed after week-long power outages caused by thunderstorms two summers ago.
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A program to trim and cut down trees in Montgomery County was proposed after week-long power outages caused by thunderstorms two summers ago.

Protestors marched in D.C. Monday morning, rallying against a proposed Pepco rate hike, while across the border in Montgomery County, lawmakers are awaiting a ruling from the state public service commission about a similar rate increase.

County Council President Roger Berliner says Pepco should not be allowed to raise rates to help pay for its service reliability upgrades, which the utility embarked upon after week-long power outages caused by thunderstorms two summers ago.

The outages resulted in an ambitious program to trim and cut down trees the utility says threaten power lines. Berliner says his bill would give the county a role in which trees are cut, but that also means trees on private property could be trimmed, which angers some residents.

"Trees on private property under this legislation could be taken down if Pepco says the tree poses an imminent hazard," says Berliner. However, a county arborist would do the verifications. Berliner's bill would also make Pepco haul off stumps left after trees are cut down.

Pepco's performance earned the utility a $1 million fine from the Maryland Public Service Commission. Berliner says the commission can send an even stronger message to Pepco about the need to improve its service by denying the rate hike request.

"The $1 million fine Pepco received in its imprudence was really a small step the commission took," says Berliner. "The big issue is what portion of these expenditures will the commission find reasonable to pass on to ratepayers."

The commission is expected to rule sometime this summer.

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