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Shinnecock tribe delays potential energy shutdown by PSEG Long Island

PSEG Long Island electric substation in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.
J.D. Allen
WSHU Public Radio
PSEG Long Island electric substation in Rockaway Beach, New York.

The Shinnecock Tribal Nation is fighting to keep the power on after tribal customers received electric service termination notices from PSEG Long Island. The tribe applied for the Arrears Forgiveness Program after accumulating debt on past electric bills.

Tela Troge, a Shinnecock tribal attorney and director of health and community services, said there is a New York state law that prohibits taxation on Indian territory, which might impact the bills. Troge said she believes tribal members could be due a refund because of past tax payments made to the utility.

Troge said she was told that the tribe had a week to resolve the bills. The tribe wants a pause on any payments until a final determination is made regarding the accounts.

“We’re just asking PSEG to put a pause on determination and to credit back our account of the taxes that have been improperly assessed on our accounts,” Troge said.

She said the threat of shutting off power during negotiations is appalling.

“It’s really shocking that that would be allowed to happen,” Troge said.

Troge said prior to the temporary pause, a utility technician visited the tribe's territory in Southampton to shut off power to their government buildings and several homes. The Shinnecock territory includes more than 200 homes and 800 residents. The loss of power would impact lifesaving health equipment and essential government services, such as a warming shelter and food pantry.

“All of our government buildings are absolutely essential to our health and to our well-being," Troge said. "For PSEG to come and basically on the eve of a really bad nor’easter and say that they’re going to shut down our emergency operation center is appalling and unjust. We thought that we had a better relationship with PSEG.”

A representative from PSEG Long Island was not available for comment.

The Shinnecock Indian Nation came to an agreement several years ago to allow PSEG Long Island to run a power cable under tribal land to increase energy reliability to the region. Troge said the tribe also used more than a million dollars of pandemic relief funding to pay tribal members' electric bills.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James recently visited the Shinnecock territory. Troge said the tribe presented a few of the issues they are currently dealing with, including the possibility of reassessing the taxes.

“It’s something that I would really implore Governor Kathy Hochul and Attorney General James to really take the time to address personally because it's not respectful at all,” Troge said.

Troge said the tribe is looking into renewable energy options such as solar technology to provide a more stable source that tribal members could afford.

Jeniece Roman is WSHU's Report for America corps member who writes about Indigenous communities in Southern New England and Long Island, New York.