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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Lawmaker Wants to Break Up Calif. Utilities Commission

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Citing lax oversight in the methane gas leak at Porter Ranch and other disasters, a California lawmaker Wednesday introduced legislation by which voters could disband the state's utilities regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, called for a voter initiative to modify the state constitution and remove regulatory control from the California Public Utilities Commission. Gatto said at a Capitol press conference that he's concerned the CPUC is "too big to succeed." He said his bill would spread out the commission's oversight duties to more capable state agencies.

"The Public Utility Reform Act acknowledges what we all seem to know: that the current system of regulating utilities and common carriers in our state is broken. This is the important first step to fixing it," Gatto said.

The CPUC received scorn and criticism from lawmakers for its handling of the deadly San Bruno explosion in 2010. Critics claim the commission failed to monitor Pacific Gas and Electric before the pipeline failure that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood.

A federal grand jury is investigating lobbying emails between commissioners and PG&E executives in a separate matter.

Along with the San Bruno and Porter Ranch tragedies, Gatto mentioned the botched closing of the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2012. Before it closed, former CPUC President Michael Peevey held a secret meeting with a Southern California Edison executive to plan how to pass on billions of dollars in closure costs to Southern California utility customers - not Edison shareholders. The CPUC in December 2015 fined Southern California Edison $16.7 million for the secret meeting.

The CPUC oversees privately owned electric, natural gas and water utilities. Its commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

Gatto's proposal to let voters decide whether to break up the commission must pass both the state Senate and Assembly with two-thirds approval. Gov. Jerry Brown last year vetoed several bills attempting to reform the commission, but he would not be able to keep Gatto's proposal from voters if the Legislature approves it.

Gatto said California citizens are concerned by the commission's recent failures and that "it is time to hit the reset button."

"After hearing about the way the clear warnings about the Porter Ranch gas leak got lost in the shuffle, I concluded that we need to rethink the way we regulate utilities in this state," Gatto said.

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