The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is fighting a decision by Southern California Edison to make the agency and its rail lines subject to rolling blackouts during energy shortages.
Edison sent the MTA a letter two weeks ago informing the agency that it "does not meet any of the definitions of an essential use customer" set by the California Public Utilities Commission and would therefore be reclassified.
County officials said the change is unjustified, arguing that disrupting the county's Metro Rail blue and green lines would be dangerous to county residents. For example, they said, cars and trains could collide if electric-powered barricades at intersections should fail to drop.
The MTA board voted Thursday to appeal the decision to the PUC.
"I think we are all prepared to make our sacrifices, but essential public services need to be protected," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who introduced a motion Thursday to appeal the decision. "This isn't an air-conditioning system where you can just wear Bermuda shorts to keep cool."
There is precedent for an exemption, as San Francisco's BART and portions of its MUNI rail systems have been classified as essential services.
But until the PUC rules, the MTA will be subject to blackouts.
"They're not exempt until it gets approved," said PUC spokeswoman Kyle DeVine. "If there should be rolling blackouts and if it becomes their turn, they would be subject to the blackouts."
Steve Conroy, an Edison spokesman, said power companies do not decide who is exempt, they only carry out the PUC's orders.
The exemptions are intended to protect customers involved in public safety.
DeVine said the PUC is being bombarded by requests from businesses and government agencies requesting exempt status. The agency is preparing guidelines and a form to appeal the decision.
She said decisions on pending appeals, including the MTA's, probably will not be made before June.