2015 | Politics

House Panel Defeats Tree-trimming Restrictions

Bill had been introduced after Montgomery County residents tried to stop Pepco from removing trees from their property

The House Economic Matters Committee defeated legislation Friday that would have prohibited an electric utility from removing a tree on private property unless it was considered hazardous and the property owner had consented to its removal.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Aruna Miller, D-Darnestown, also would have required an electric utility to comply with the International Society of Arboriculture’s “Best Management Practices for Utility Pruning of Trees.” The bill was filed after several Potomac-area homeowners last fall unsuccessfully sought an injunction in Montgomery County Circuit Court to bar Pepco from removing trees from their properties.

A Senate hearing on the legislation was scheduled for Tuesday, but Sen. Brian Feldman, D-Potomac, who had sponsored a bill on tree trimming similar to the one authored by Miller, is expected to ask that it be withdrawn, removing it from Tuesday’s hearing agenda.

Friday’s committee action on the tree-trimming bill has its origins in 2011 electric service reliability legislation, also authored by Feldman, which was aimed at reducing the number of outages experienced by Pepco customers.

Pepco officials have defended subsequent tree-trimming efforts as a move to comply with the 2011 law by reducing the possibility of interference with power lines. But some critics, including a number of homeowners in the Bethesda/Potomac area, have complained that Pepco went from one extreme to another.

When the courts declined to intervene last fall, Feldman, joined by Bethesda-based County Council member Roger Berliner, wrote to the state Public Service Commission, which had instituted tree-trimming regulations in the wake of the 2011 law. Feldman and Berliner asked for a brief moratorium on such activity while the commission investigated whether its regulations were being followed by Pepco.

Feldman and Berliner contended in their letter that Pepco had “gone beyond what is necessary to achieve reliability,” but the commission responded in November, contending Pepco was complying with existing regulations. That, in turn, prompted Feldman and Miller to file their legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Susan Lee and Dels. Bill Frick, Ariana Kelly and Marc Korman, all D-Bethesda, as well as Dels. Al Carr, D-Kensington, Kathleen Dumais, D-Rockville, David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Boyds, and Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery Village.

Sources suggested one of the factors in the strong vote against the legislation by the House Economic Matters Committee was a reluctance by some legislators to impose detailed regulations such as tree-trimming standards through statute, as opposed to leaving them to the judgment of regulators.

In addition to Frick, two Montgomery County members of the committee—Dels. Ben Kramer, D-Silver Spring, and Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Kensington—supported the tree-trimming restrictions. A fourth county legislator on the panel, Charles Barkley, D-Germantown, joined 17 other delegates from other portions of the state to report the bill unfavorably.