TRENTON—AARP called on Governor Chris Christie, the New Jersey Legislature and the Board of Public Utilities to prevent gas and electric rate increases while unveiling approximately 12,000 petitions to the Governor at a State House news conference.
“Thousands of New Jersey residents spoke out in these petitions against rising utility rates,” said Douglas Johnston, AARP Governmental Affairs Manager. “They call for Governor Christie to defend ratepayers, and defend the economy of New Jersey by making sure that electricity and gas bills are affordable.”
AARP maintains that despite the need to bolster infrastructure to protect against storm damage, it must be done so responsibly with thorough oversight by the BPU.
“PSE&G is seeking $3.9 billion increase in electric and gas utility rates, ostensibly to prevent future damages of the type caused by Superstorm Sandy. Similarly, JCP&L has requested over $600 million in rate increases even though there is strong evidence that JCP&L has actually been over-charging customers for years according to Rate Counsel,” said Ken Lindhorst, AARP Executive Council Advocate. “While utility infrastructure might need to be upgraded, utility customers should only pay for projects that are cost-beneficial and actually improve reliability—and not a dime more—and not for storm recovery costs that could have been avoided with appropriate and prudent planning, management, and maintenance.”
AARP opposes any attempts at the BPU or via legislative proposals that would weaken current oversight of the utility industry.
“AARP opposes three bills which would each make it easier for utility companies to increase rates by gutting the process that is designed to protect consumers and ensure that they are, in fact, paying fair rates,” said AARP Chief Legislative Advocate Marilyn Askin. “The continuing and sometimes dramatic requests for utility rate hikes that we are seeing in New Jersey are a threat to low-income households and especially for those living on fixed incomes. Our public officials have a duty to make sure that rates are fair, markets are transparent, and services are accessible.”
After the news conference, AARP volunteers delivered the petitions to the Office of Gov. Christie. Many of the petitions were punctuated with hand-written notes including in some cases, desperate pleas to Christie to protect them from rate hikes.
Mary in Hackensack wrote, “I can’t buy food the bill is too high. We have to pay the bill to PSE&G and stay without food.”
Carol in Irvington wrote, “My son is on life support and I’m restricted to Social Security. Increases can’t happen. We need relief.”
Maria in Palisades Park wrote, “Please, Governor Christie. Help us stay warm in the winter.”
“The hand-written comments put a human face on the fear that so many New Jerseyans have about increasing costs of living,” said Marilyn Askin, AARP Chief Legislative Advocate. “New Jerseyans are already paying the 7th highest utility rates in the nation, and many simply cannot afford to pay more. New Jerseyans should only pay for projects that are cost-beneficial and actually improve reliability and not a dime more.”
Mildred from Verona echoed a sentiment expressed by many who quite simply, have lost hope of being able to afford to pay their bills, and in many cases, stay in the state they have lived in for all of their lives. “I am 91 years of age. Where do I go?”
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