Gov. Brown, lawmakers strike deal for sweeping reforms at California PUC
- California Gov. Jerry Brown has announced a broad package of transparency reforms impacting utility regulators, including the expansion of public access, records requirements and oversight, following controversy surrounding secret meetings with utility officials.
- Brown's office said the changes aim to reform ex parte rules at the California Public Utilities Commission "to establish a more ethical environment that is fair to all parties, while providing flexibility for entities to contact their appointed officials."
- California regulators last month reopened the case surrounding the early closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant and the costs associated with it after the agency fined Southern California Edison for secret meetings it had with former CPUC president Michael Peevey and others to arrange the settlement.
Elected officials in California have announced sweeping changes at the CPUC, calling for a shift in the way the commission conducts its affairs and indicating there is still work ahead. Brown was joined by Assembly member Mike Gatto (D) and Democratic Sens. Jerry Hill and Mark Leno in announcing a sweeping package of reforms to improve governance, accountability, transparency and oversight.
"These reforms will change how this commission does business," Brown said in the announcement. "Public access to meetings and records will be expanded, new safety and oversight positions will be created and ex parte communication rules will be strengthened."
Previously, Gov. Brown vetoed six bills aimed at reforming the agency last year, saying "technical" and "conflicting" issues complicated the proposed reforms.
Among several goals, officials said they want to increase the CPUC's focus and expertise by "relocating responsibilities and making logistical changes that improve the commission's ability to function."
Those changes include authorizing the commission to hire and locate employees in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Sacramento, requiring CPUC voting meetings to be held in various regions of the state, and allowing a commissioner to issue an alternate proposed decision at any point before a vote. Current law requires issuance of the alternate proposals alongside a proposed decision from the presiding administrative law judge.
The changes will also push reforms that make it "easier for the public and watchdog groups to participate in CPUC proceedings," according to Brown's announcement. Changes include prohibitions on former regulated utility executives from serving on the commission for two years, allowing any California agency to participate in CPUC proceedings without official party status, and authorizing the California Attorney General to bring an enforcement action in superior court against a decisionmaker or employee of the commission who violates the ex parte communication requirements.
"These reforms mark a new beginning for the CPUC. The commission will become transparent and accountable to Californians and focused on the safety of our communities," said Gatto, chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.
"It's been a long road, and we still have much work to do if we are to build the CPUC that the state deserves," said Hill, whose district includes the city of San Bruno.
The governor will also create an "ethics ombudsperson" who CPUC employees or members of the public can contact with concerns, and who is responsible for enhanced ethics training for all CPUC staff and commissioners. A Deputy Director for Safety position would be given powers to "red tag" any facility, process or activity, as unsafe. And new rules would require the CPUC to work with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to expedite relocation of spent fuel currently stored at the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station to an independent spent fuel storage installation.
"The principles are a blueprint for a CPUC that is focused, efficient, working in the public interest, and most notably, transparent and accountable," said Leno. "The changes agreed to by the Commission and the Governor in SB 215 apply enhanced ex parte communication rules targeting the abuses of the past and ensure independent prosecution and stiff penalties for those who would violate the public trust."
California is conducting a criminal investigation into former CPUC chair Michael Peevey following revelations last year that the regulator met secretly in Warsaw, Poland with officials from Southern California Edison, related to settlements surrounding the close of the San Onofre nuclear facility and his attempts to secure funding for research at UCLA.
Peevey has also faced other allegations of improper communications after a release of emails unveiled secret dealings between himself and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the state's largest utility. The emails followed a 2010 gas line explosion that killed eight people and flattened a neighborhood in San Bruno, and led toPeevey stepping down last year.
- The Sacramento Bee Sweeping Public Utilities Commission changes announced
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