February 3, 2016
A trio of lawmakers proposed the most far-reaching reform of the embattled California Public Utilities Commission to date, rolling out legislation Wednesday that would ask voters to strip the agency’s constitutional authority and allow the Legislature to redistribute its power to other state agencies.
The constitutional amendment, which two-thirds of the Legislature would have to support in order for it to be placed before voters in November, comes as natural gas continues to spew from the Los Angeles County suburb of Porter Ranch.
And, as lead author Assemblyman Mike Gatto said, questions are being raised over whether the CPUC could have prevented the natural gas storage well leak in the first place.
“The people of the state of California are deeply concerned with the CPUC’s failures in recent years — you have people in the Bay Area, justifiably concerned about a pipeline explosion; you have folks in Orange County worried about nuclear waste; Sacramento and the Central Valley is on edge about rail safety, specifically oil trains; and of course Los Angeles is deeply concerned after a gas leak,” said Gatto, D-Los Angeles, chair of the Assembly’s Utilities and Commerce Committee.
“With each of these issues, lawmakers and the media have identified specific failures by the CPUC to do its job properly or, in some cases, ethically,” Gatto added. “With the Porter Ranch gas leak, the CPUC was notified in writing of serious corrosion and the likelihood of a leak as far back as 2014. And as far as we can tell, they did nothing.”
In a statement, the CPUC wrote that “there is still much to do, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on any constructive and helpful reform initiative that is put forward. Only by working together on real changes that have the ability to succeed can we make the CPUC stronger and more efficient, and our relationship with the Legislature more productive.”
The Porter Ranch situation is just the latest in a string of scandals to rock confidence in the CPUC’s regulatory track record and raise questions over whether the agency is too close to the companies it oversees. In September 2010, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas line exploded in a San Bruno neighborhood, killing eight people; there are also ongoing questions over how much ratepayers were stuck with after the San Onofre nuclear power plant was shut down.
Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed six bills that would have changed how the commission conducts business. Three bills by now-Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon would have established new oversight measures on the commission.
Another of the vetoed bills, by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would have tightened rules on private communications between utility executives and state regulators. It also would have tightened conflict-of-interest rules and limited the CPUC president’s powers. And two bills from state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would have set performance criteria for the agency and included commission meetings in transparency laws.
Brown’s office declined to comment.
Lisa Pickoff-White contributed to this report.
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