Smart Meter Discrimination Updates: Maine, Pennsylvania, Should Medically Vulnerable Ratepayers Be Forced To Accept a Smart Meter, and/or Pay Protection?

By Patricia Burke

In Maine, Central Maine Power first fought to dismiss a discrimination lawsuit, and then asked for permission to accommodate…too little too late.

Public utility commission hearings are not often on the top of everyone’s playlists.

But increasingly, customers in every state have been called to action opposing the drive to forcefully install wireless smart utility meters, resulting in cost, privacy, safety, health, green-washing, environment, and security concerns.

Many sustainability initiatives reflect the “Ivory Tower Syndrome” and/or industry capture, whereby those making decisions are cut off from the reality of those in the trenches, or are captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

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Damaging industries are portraying their agendas as providing equal opportunities, for example for time-of use billing for smart meters, and addressing the digital divide for 5G.

But the tide may be turning, whereby the consequences of not heeding early warnings are mounting.

FCC Decision Not to Review Safety Guidelines “Not Evidence Based;” Included Reported Smart Meter Harm

On August 13, the Court issued a ruling regarding two lawsuits filed against the FCC. In a consolidated case, the Environmental Health Trust and the Children’s Health Defense brought lawsuits against the FCC for failure to justify why the agency has not updated inadequate radio frequency exposure limits.  Smart meters are one wireless application specifically included in the lawsuit.

Ever since stimulus funding for smart meters was made available under the Obama administration, health complaints were lodged wherever the meters were installed. This includes reports of the acute onset of disabling microwave illness, also referred to as EHS electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

Utilities, manufacturers, health agencies, and regulators choose to ignore rather than investigate reported harm.

Had the appropriate independent investigation taken place over a decade ago, we would be ten years ahead in developing safer alternatives.

The public remains mostly unaware of the significance of the recent Court ruling against the FCC, which received scant media coverage.

But many individuals who have been on the front line of the EMF/RF/5G health and safety battle, some for decades, continue to work on a number of fronts.

They will hopefully succeed in stopping the charade of equal opportunity health risk masquerading as sustainability and justice.

It remains a terrible reflection of the smart meter industry as a whole that simple accommodation for health vulnerable ratepayers was not provided, especially when contrasted to the enormous efforts made to address covid. When a society picks and chooses under what circumstances it protects the health vulnerable, and disaster capitalism and corruption prevails, the public trust is violated.

Although these court cases focus on the issue of accommodation, increasingly, the entire smart meter paradigm now requires review.

MAINE: April 1, 2021: Judge to Hear Smart Meter Disability Discrimination Case-Denies CMP Motion to Dismiss

For Immediate Release

Judge to Hear Smart Meter Disability Discrimination Case-Denies CMP Motion to Dismiss

Press Contact: William Most

[email protected]

Portland, ME, April 1, 2021 –On July 7, 2020 Bowdoinham resident Ed Friedman filed a disability/discrimination lawsuit against Central Maine Power (CMP) in Portland’s U.S. District Court. The suit, brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) alleges smart meter opt out fees are discriminatory to those disabled customers whose condition may be exacerbated by emitted radiation from the meters. Friedman has lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma, an incurable form of cancer. CMP filed a Motion to Dismiss on several grounds. On Wednesday March 31, Judge Jon Levy issued a ruling denying CMP’s Motion on all counts. This allows the case to proceed and CMP has until April 14 to submit their answer to the original complaint.

While most people are familiar with the ADA, the FHA specifically protects against discrimination in the provision of housing services and the Rehab Act prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal funding. CMP received $96 million in stimulus funding from the Department of Energy for their smart meter project.

For Friedman, opting out of the smart meter program is not a choice. His doctor recommends he not be exposed to any excess radiation in his home. According to Friedman’s oncologist, exposure to even low-level radiation from the meters may exacerbate “fatigue, cognitive difficulty, memory issues and multiple cancer types.”

CMP made three claims supporting their position the lawsuit should be dismissed: 1) that Friedman did not sufficiently allege the opt-out fee is discriminatory, 2) Friedman was precluded from relitigating the PUC’s 2016 determination that smart meters are “safe” and 3) that Friedman’s disparate impact Fair Housing Act claim must fail because the opt-out fee is a valid and generally applicable policy that the PUC requires CMP to implement.

Judge Levy noting the similarity in discrimination language between the ADA, FHA and Rehab Act, wrote: “If Friedman’s factual allegations are true—as I must assume on a motion to dismiss—then CMP’s refusal to waive the opt-out fee may constitute discrimination under all three statutes.”

In 2016 Friedman asked CMP to waive its’ opt out fees as their reasonable accommodation of his disability. CMP declined, writing there was “no basis for compromise.” When he refused to pay for the same access to safe electricity his neighbors without disabilities received without any surcharge, CMP disconnected his power and he has been without utility service since.

Levy responded to this stating: “Friedman alleges that without an analog meter, he cannot have the same “full and equal enjoyment”, 42 U.S.C.A. §12182(a), of CMP’s services made available to persons who do not have his medical condition because if he uses a smart meter, he pays the standard rate but bears a unique risk to his health. However, if he uses an analog meter, he has the same physical experience and peace of mind as a person without his disability, but with an added fee. Under this view, it is the plausible risk to Friedman’s health, not a probable physical toll, that makes a fee waiver “necessary” to afford him equal access to CMP’s services.”

CMP argued the opt-out fee is not discriminatory because they charge the same amount to everyone. But Friedman’s lawsuit responds that “this is no excuse at all. Suppose a store has both stairs and a wheelchair ramp, and it charges everyone a ‘stairs opt-out fee’ to use the ramp . . .the store is illegally discriminating against wheelchair users who, by virtue of their disability, require a ramp in order to access the store. This is true even if the store charges everyone the fee to use the ramp.”

“If CMP is going to do business in Maine, they need to follow the laws of the land – including those protecting their disabled ratepayers” said Friedman. “We are very happy with this well-reasoned decision and look forward to moving forward on this crucial matter” he added.

In a related matterdocket 2019-00044 at the Maine PUC, CMP is attempting to replace ageing analog opt out meters with smart meters minus the 2-way communication module. The original PUC Opt Out orders (2010-00345) issued in 2011 required CMP to retain enough analog meters for any opt out customer requesting one. Despite no notification of their plan to the approximately 5,500 opt out customers, quite a few public comments have been filed in opposition; citing CMP’s obligation to supply analog meters, asking what happened to the company’s more than 600,000 electromechanical analog meters and pointing out the ready availability of refurbished analog meters and the need for CMP to set up a program of rolling meter refurbishments. Such a program, as other utilities engage in and at about $10/meter, cost less and have less environmental and health effects than the new solid state smart meters CMP wants to switch to.

Mr. Friedman is represented by the Law Offices of Bruce M. Merrill and Most & Associates

Maine Deliberations September 21, 2021

Maine PUC deliberations at 10 am were over by 10:06. The commissioners unanimously decided to deny CMP’s request for waiving Ed Friedman’s opt out fees. They cited his ongoing disability/discrimination lawsuit in federal court and affirmed the position that the court was the proper venue to decide these core issues. This is a small but not inconsequential victory.

The deliberation can be heard here: (scroll to Sept. 21)

Pennsylvania: 80 Groups, 57 Doctors, 19 Scientists Join CHD in Urging Pennsylvania to Reject ‘Smart Meters’ Mandate

On Sept 15, Children’s Health Defense filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in support of a lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s interpretation of the state’s 2008 law mandating smart meters.

CHD notes: “A decade after they were introduced, there is little to no evidence smart meters saved any energy. Instead, ample evidence shows that consumers had to carry a rate hike to fund the ever-increasing costs of these meters.

False readings by the meters have resulted in much higher bills for consumers. The meters have caused fires and violated privacy rights by selling consumers’ usage data.

But by far the worst consequence of widespread use of smart meters is that they have become a leading cause of sickness in adults and children.”  Read more here.

Main image art from Flo Freshman

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