- Bills aimed at reforming the California Public Utilities Commission, AB 825 and AB 1023, passed the state Assembly last week and are now headed to the Senate.
- Reforms include requiring the commission to make summaries of utility procurement contracts public, prohibiting the commission from reassigning employees without legislative approval, and requiring utilities to post rate increase explanations on their websites.
- However, the reform was stripped of a key provision that would have allowed superior court appeals by losing parties in commission decisions. Backers of the stripped provision say commission oversight in the form of judicial review is needed.
The commission reviews rate increases and other initiatives proposed by PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E, California’s dominant investor-owned utilities. Presently, parties to California regulatory proceedings with grievances can only get commission self-review or, if rejected, review by a state appeals panel. Other states allow legal recourse.
Senate approval of the package of CPUC reforms is still required for the reforms to pass, but the upper body is not expected to re-insert the stripped judicial review provision.
The provision was removed from the package after the Judicial Council of California, which represents judges and courts, concluded it had not been proven to be a satisfactory solution for aggrieved parties and would result in significant legal costs.
California statute established the CPUC as an impartial judge of its own decisions. Aggrieved parties to City Council decisions and other state commission decisions can seek a legal remedy.
Interest in CPUC reforms follows multiple state and federal investigations into high profile accusations against commissioners for alleged improper dealings with utility executives. Questions linger over settlements for PG&E’s 2010 San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and for the SCE/SDG&E 2012 San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station closure.
Ratepayer advocates, who continue to challenge the CPUC’s San Bruno and San Onofre decisions, argue judicial review is the only way their constituency can be fairly heard.