Calif. Lege Would Dismantle Energy Regulator

     SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A bill to disassemble California’s troubled utilities regulator through a voter initiative — and allow lawmakers to appoint new commissioners — cleared its first committee Wednesday.
     The measure would modify the state constitution and remove regulatory control from the California Public Utilities Commission, which has been accused of bungling several high-profile incidents including the San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and the Porter Ranch methane leak.
     Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, told an Assembly panel that public confidence in the commission has eroded and accused the regulator of “picking and choosing” which policies to enforce.
     “You have everybody in this state concerned about how the CPUC is doing its job and wondering whether it is indeed doing its job,” Gatto said. “We are seeking to get a regulatory regime in this state that is more focused and specialized and more able to deal with the things that could cause the gravest public harm.”
     Gatto’s proposal would drastically reduce the regulator’s oversight over the state’s privately owned electric, natural gas and water utilities. The commission is also tasked with monitoring the state’s railroads and passenger transportation companies.
     Commissioners are currently appointed by the governor, and Gov. Jerry Brown has shunned past reform attempts — vetoing six bills last year relating to the beleaguered regulator.
     The Legislature had unanimously approved the vetoed measures, which sought to increase open meetings as well as appoint an inspector general from the State Auditor’s Office to supervise the commission.
     The commission has been accused of “being in bed” with the industries and businesses it’s supposed to be overseeing and criticized for failing to adequately respond to the Porter Ranch gas leak.
     The California Department of Justice is currently investigating the commission, specifically former president Michal Peevey’s involvement in the closing of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California. Peevey conducted several secret meetings with a Southern California Edison executive before announcing a plan to pass billions of dollars in closure costs to the utility’s customers — not Edison shareholders.
     The commission eventually approved a deal that assigned nearly 70 percent of the closure costs to the customers of Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Company.
     On Wednesday, lawmakers highlighted the commission’s recent failures and accused it of being outdated and unfit to regulate the Golden State’s transformation to renewable energy.
     “What we have seen by a regulatory scheme frozen in time has resulted in slow-moving train wreck for the state of California,” Assemblyman Mark Levine, D-San Rafael, said.
      Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11 passed the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee on a 9-1 vote, with bipartisan support and with no public opposition. The lone dissenter, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, said the bill wasn’t clear on how the Legislature would reorganize the commission.
     The bill will next be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee for fiscal analysis. If the initiative is cleared by the Legislature, it would go to voters without needing approval from Gov. Brown.

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