CA lawmakers send CPUC reform bills to Gov. Brown
- A handful of bills aimed at reforming the California Public Utilities Commission in have passed the state legislature and await Gov. Jerry Brown's (D) signature. Brown has until Oct. 11 to sign or veto the bills.
- One bill would limit back-channel contacts with the commissioners in regulatory cases and ban ex-parte communication. Another bill calls for an independent inspector general to investigate the allegations at the agency.
- According to another bill, parties can sue the commission in the Superior Court when regulators fail to respond to public-records requests or are accused of violating California's open-meetings law. The final bill requires greater oversight over any of the CPUC's defense spending.
- Lawmakers say these bills will ensure the public's trust with the CPUC and protect them from possible rate hikes.
It's been a tumultuous year for California's utility regulators. The slate of bills passed last week is aimed at mopping up the body after the disclosure of more than 65,000 emails unveiled tight relationships between the former head regulator and executives at Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE).
Lawmakers such as Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who authored three of the bills, hope these reforms will stifle back-channel communications while strengthening the commission's "ethical behavior."
“Californians pay for the broken culture of the CPUC every day – from higher utility bills to the devastation of safety failures,” Rendon said. “My proposals, along with those of my Senate colleagues, represent a step toward restoring public confidence in the commission.”
State Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) authored the bill that would ban ex-parte communications — discussions between utilities and their regulators outside of official business. Sentiment for the ban was sparked when lawmakers learned that SCE executives secretly met with Michael Peevey, the former head of the CPUC, in Warsaw, Poland, to discuss the closure of a nuclear plant.
The bill would also require commissioners and other decision-makers disclose private communications held with stakeholders in quasi-legislative cases, the first time a policy is set in place to do so.
In a new tactic, the CPUC last month launched its own probe into PG&E's company culture, even while critics said it has failed to respond to a search warrant from the attorney general. The CPUC's probe came after ruling in April that PG&E must pay the largest regulatory fine in the state's history ($1.6 billion) for violating federal and state pipeline safety standards linked to the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. The blast killed eight people and flattened a northern California neighborhood.
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