Many Baltimore politicians, residents, and advocacy organizations are furious at Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) and its allies, after recent suspicious political deals, a rate hike announcement, discriminatory working conditions, and continued commitment to contributing to the climate crisis. Ask yourself: Do we need a corrupt, racist, price-gouging corporation controlling access to our basic needs for their own profit?
BGE is the private utility corporation that provides access to gas and electric service for Baltimore-area residents, and is owned by the Chicago-based Fortune 100 company Exelon. On February 15, the Baltimore City spending board approved a deal to transfer control of the maintenance of the city’s conduit system to BGE. The deal would allow BGE to stop paying fees to Baltimore City. Other companies such as Comcast are required to pay fees to use the underground pipes that contain a variety of cables and wires. Instead, BGE would be responsible for making decisions about and paying for the future upkeep of the system. Although Mayor Brandon Scott argues that the deal does not technically violate the law, this step towards privatization certainly seems to ignore the wishes of Baltimore City voters, who recently approved a proposal to ban the sale of the conduit system to any private company.
The backlash to the decision among the city’s major political players was loud and immediate. The two voters not controlled by the mayor on the five-member spending board protested by refusing to attend the meeting that would include a vote on the proposal. Seven City Council members sent an angry letter to Mayor Scott. One of them said the spending board should be abolished, and another even implied there was corruption between Scott and BGE.
The Baltimore NAACP joined the chorus of condemnation of the deal, adding that several of its members were “subjected to racial hostility at BGE.” BGE is also currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by seven Black former employees alleging that it discriminates against Black workers and maintains a racist company culture, including years of noose-tying demonstrations.
Meanwhile, BGE is increasing its spending on gas infrastructure to $500 million in 2024, after already doubling it since 2010. In a Baltimore Sun op-ed, a lawyer who works for the state of Maryland argued that these spending increases should be blocked by the state, accusing the state utility commission of deferring to BGE and its shareholders instead of pursuing an end to the use of fossil fuels.
What’s more, on February 18, BGE proposed a 15% increase in the cost of gas and electricity over the next three years, a frightening prospect for low-income Baltimore workers and families who already struggle to afford basic needs.
It’s plainly obvious that the decisionmakers at BGE don’t work to serve the residents of Baltimore in meeting our needs for heating, cooking, and other essential needs, but instead serve to increase the corporation’s own wealth. The fact that BGE can get its preferred policies implemented with its chokehold over the city and state government should lead us to consider: why does BGE exist? It’s a clear demonstration of the evil of our political and economic system. Our essential infrastructure could be controlled by the will of the people – yet it’s governed by corrupt deals and greed, subjecting its own workers to racist harassment, all while dragging us deeper into climate catastrophe.