A new congressional probe is targeting the Hawaii Electric Company over the deadly Maui fires

House Republicans have announced two separate investigations into the Aug. 8 fire that killed at least 115 people in Lahaina.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced Thursday that it has launched an investigation of the Hawaiian Electric Company for its role in the deadly wildfire that ravaged Lahaina on Aug. 8, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 115 people.

in message Addressed to the chairs of HECO, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, and the Hawaii State Energy Office, the House committee chair, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, said she and her colleagues have a number of concerns about HECO’s potential liability in the fire and whether it had done enough to prepare for the disaster given That officials had known for years that such a disaster was a real possibility.

The letter states that there is evidence that a downed HECO power line may have been the cause of the fire that eventually engulfed Lahaina.

A MECO warning sign indicates a power pole in the Moka area of ​​the Lahaina Bypass as a bushfire catches fire near a power plant on Sunday, August 13, 2023 in Lahaina.  A major fire broke out in areas west of Maui last week.  The facilities have not been fully restored.  (Kevin Fuji/Civil Strike/2023)
A MECO warning sign indicates a power pole in the Moka area of ​​the Lahaina Bypass in Maui. (Kevin Fuji/Civil Strike/2023)

“Our thoughts are with the people of Maui as they experience great grief, grief and despair, especially for those who are still searching for their lost loved ones,” McMorris-Rodgers said. “The pain is unimaginable, and the road to recovery is long. We must fully understand how this disaster began to ensure Hawaii and other states are prepared to prevent and stop other deadly wildfires.

The letter was signed by McMorris Rodgers as well as US Representative Jeff Duncan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Energy, Climate and Network Security, and US Representative Morgan Griffith, who leads the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

McMorris, Rodgers, Duncan and Griffiths are all Republicans.

The Maui wildfires have become increasingly politicized in recent weeks, especially in Washington where Republicans have become so openly criticized President Joe Biden for not visiting the disaster area immediately and telling a reporter on August 13 that he had “no comment” on the rising Maui death toll.

A White House spokesperson has since clarified that Biden did not in fact hear the reporter’s question before responding.

Biden agreed Declaration of emergency disaster to Maui on August 10, providing access to billions of dollars in federal aid. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 federal employees have been deployed to Maui to assist with recovery efforts.

McMorris Rodgers’ investigation is the second by a GOP-led Congress into the Maui wildfires, which also destroyed land and homes in areas around Kula and Olinda.

Earlier this week, the House Oversight Committee, which is chaired by US Rep. James Comer, announced that it would conduct its own investigation into the federal government’s response to the disaster.

Members of the Democratic congressional delegation in Hawaii questioned whether Kummer’s investigation was politically motivated.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is expected to visit Maui this weekend.

Despite partisan concerns, a number of Democrats and Republicans, including US Senator Brian Schatz, have pushed for legislation that would create Single board independent To investigate natural disasters as well as government response. To date, this legislation has not been passed in Congress.

McMorris Rodgers’ letter asks HECO to provide a timeline for its actions on Aug. 8 and in the immediate aftermath of the fire. The Electric Utility, PUC and State Energy Office also invite information about their efforts to mitigate the spread of invasive weeds It provided fuel for the fire while racing to Lahaina.

In addition, the committee is seeking information showing how much money HECO has invested in Maui over the past decade to enhance its infrastructure, invest in renewable energy and address wildfire risks. The letter indicates specifically 2021 Report from the Province of Maui Which has assessed the growing threat of bushfires and is seeking information on whether any of the report’s recommendations have been followed.

HECO spokesman Darren Bye acknowledged in a brief statement to Civil Beat that company officials had received the letter and “looked forward to working with the committee.”

“Hawaiian Electric is doing everything we can to support those impacted on Maui as we continue restoration and rebuilding efforts,” Pai said. “We are also working with a number of different entities to keep our communities safe, as climate issues are rapidly worsening here and around the world.”

You can read the full message here:

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