Regardless of one’s beliefs about climate change, its effects on global finance, public policy, business, and the energy industry are undeniable. The energy infrastructure crisis, whether in Maui, Fresno, or any other city in our nation, is exacting a toll in precious lives.
Tragedies are unfolding across the United States as fires claim lives due to faulty power lines. Aging infrastructure, built to standards of the last century, is faltering under present demands and incapable of supporting our electrified future. Drawing from my experience operating a naval nuclear power plant and overseeing electrical infrastructure projects in California, including work with PG&E and Southern California Edison, I recall California’s deadliest fire in November 2018, ignited by downed power lines. The death toll from the Maui fires has already surpassed the 2018 losses and continues to rise, underscoring the dire consequences.
Disturbingly, evidence of deteriorating power poles and bare lines, vulnerable to sparks, was documented. These lines, hanging precariously on old, compromised poles in a wood decay hazard zone and incapable of withstanding hurricane winds, were known to both power companies and regulators.
Lack of Leadership and Accountability
The question arises: Where is the leadership, and who will hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable? I echo Michael Jacobs, a senior energy analyst, who points out that while power lines are causing numerous fires, a new safety regime is yet to emerge. This crisis necessitates experienced leaders who can implement safety regulations without crippling vital industries, ensuring that lives, cities, wildlife, and land are not sacrificed before action is taken. The blame rests on both regulators and the regulated, prioritizing profits over people.
Though residing in Fresno County, the impact of the Maui losses deeply affects me. Hawaii holds personal significance as a part of my family heritage. My mom was born on the Island, as was her father before, and on back to the times of the Kamehameha dynasty, when the first Portuguese left whaling ships to start lives in agriculture. This is before Hawai’i was a U.S. territory and long before it became the 50th State in our Union. Childhood summers spent on the islands form cherished memories, and I take pride in my diverse ethnic background and the aloha spirit I carry with me.
The Aloha Spirt and Responsibility
Hawaii’s welcoming culture, driven by tourism, epitomizes the aloha spirit. When you arrive on the islands your greeted with Aloha and lei is placed over your shoulders. As a child, I would collect the sweet smelling plumeria flowers and craft leis, gifting them upon family arrivals. My wife and I honeymooned in Maui, and I’ve passed on this tradition to my children through family trips. I invite others to experience Hawaii’s beauty or catch the aloha spirit, either by visiting or contributing to relief efforts. Hawaii Governor Josh Green rightly points out that such support aids the local economy and aids those suffering.
Lastly, my responsibility, or kuleana, compels me to petition President Biden. I call for federal aid equal to or surpassing that offered to refugees or those entering the country to be provided to each individual affected by the Maui fires. Furthermore, I advocate for executive action to establish a restoration development task force with clear objectives and timelines. This task force, consisting of business and government representatives, would ensure dignified, safe, and timely community reconstruction and restoration to a standard preventing such tragedies in the future. As a gesture of bipartisan cooperation, I extend my hand to serve and lead in this necessary federal response, prioritizing people over politics.
About the Author
Michael Maher is a candidate for California’s 21st Congressional District seat. He is a veteran, businessman, and former FBI special agent.