Oversight hearing on Maui fires expected to include testimony from HECO executive
The US House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing later this month on the deadly Maui wildfires that claimed the lives of at least 115 people, with many still unaccounted for. The Aug. 8 tragedy that wiped out five square miles of homes and businesses in Lahaina is considered the deadliest fire in modern US history.
Committee Chair, US Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Wash. joined fellow republican US Rep. Morgan Griffith of Va. who chairs the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in making the announcement.
The hearing will take place on Sept. 28, 2023, and is expected to include testimony from Shelee Kimura, the president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric.
Hawaiian Electric has been named as the plaintiff in several lawsuits, including a civil lawsuit filed by the County of Maui that alleges the electric company acted negligently by failing to power down its electrical equipment despite a Red Flag Warning issued by the National Weather Service the day before. HECO has since responded to the claims saying “power lines in West Maui had been de-energized for more than six hours” when a second fire on the afternoon of Aug. 8 began in a field near Lahaina Intermediate School.
Since then, the state, county and the electric company released a joint statement, vowing to work together against future weather-driven emergencies.
Others invited to testify include: Leodoloff R. Asuncion, Jr., Chairman, Hawaiʻi Public Utilities Commission; and Mark B. Glick, Chief Energy Officer, Hawai’i State Energy Office.
Chairs Rodgers and Griffith, along with Energy, Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee Chair Jeff Duncan (R-SC) recently launched an investigation into the Maui fires of last month. In a recent letter to Kimura, Asuncion and Glick, they wrote:
“Our hearts are with the people of Maui as they confront immense grief, sadness, and despair, especially for those who are still searching for their missing loved ones. The pain is unimaginable and the road to recovery is long. We must come to a complete understanding of how this disaster started to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires.”
“In our capacity as Chairs of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the US House of Representatives and its respective energy policy and oversight subcommittees, we are empowered to oversee energy supply, reliability of all power, and regulation of energy resources throughout the country. To that end, we seek a fuller understanding of the role, if any, of the electric infrastructure in this tragic event.”
The letter also cites an Aug. 17, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal by Katherine Blunt et al. “Hawaiian Electric Knew of Wildfire Threat, but Waited Years to Act.” It cites another article, published in The Washington Post on Aug. 24, 2023, by Brianna Sacks and Allyson Chiu that looks into the removal of power lines and other equipment “after the fire, but before relevant investigations had been completed” by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.