Lawmakers Propose Stripping Power From CPUC

Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), listens during an interview in San Francisco on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), told a Senate committee that no other state agency wants to regulate Uber and Lyft. (Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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.

Lawmakers Propose Stripping Power From CPUC 3 February,2016Marisa Lagos

  • Captain Nitpick

    Tragically for CA taxpayers, the one state organization less competent than the CPUC is the Legislature.

  • CaptD

    Energy Costs are only good for Utility shareholders!

    SALUTE to both Bob and Stock for yet another GREAT discussion with enough factual info that the rest of US can learn from on how the cost of Nuclear compares with the cost of both PV and Wind.

  • CaptD

    Here is a “Partial Listing” of the #SanOnofreGate debacle:

    SCE asks for and gets an Uprate which started destroying the OSG

    SCE tells the CPUC that its new RSG will save a billion dollars and last 40+ years.

    SCE self designed the RSG without a NRC 50.90 review (Major Technical Review)

    SCE gets to use the NRC 50.59 (like-for-like) loophole, thanks to their good friends in NRC Region IV (who don’t have a working knowledge ofRSG design).

    SCE picks MHI because they will do anything SCE wants, even thought they have NO experience building big RSG .


    Con’t 2

    SCE keeps MHI from talking to anyone about the RSG design w/o SCE’s permission.

    SCE did not fully disclose to the NRC all the changes they were doing in the RSGs.

    SCE accepted the RSG as soon as they were installed, thinking they were perfect.

    SCE did not determine the cause of the Dings & Dents signals that occurred.

    SCE ran Unit 3 over its “redline” thinking it was constructed “Better” than Unit 2, in violation of their NRC license.

    SCE realized that something caused the leak but downplayed it before they knew, just like TEPCO did at Fukushima.

    SCE realizing the scope of their problem, started clamping down on all employees in the know.

    SCE made deals with the NRC, the CPUC and probably MHI to downplay what happened, to protect all involved.


    Con’t 3

    SCE came up with a poorly written root cause report, as did the NRC AIT and other Experts friendly to SCE and the nuclear industry.

    SCE gets egg on their face when the NRC Independent Consultants issue their report critical of all the other reports, but SCE gets it buried for a year+.

    SCE starting hiring lots of friendly outside Experts to build a big cover for themselves and to spread the time out.

    SCE came up with a Unit 2 restart plan that was ridiculous, since they could not even explain how it would work safely to the NRC ASLB.

    SCE failed to have someone smart testify for them before the NRC and the ASLB, which made them look bad again.

    SCE has the their SanO keys taken away from them (Verdict: No reactor restart without direct NRC permission).


    Con’t 4

    SCE made the behind closed doors Peevey deal and tried to hide it from everyone.

    SCE starts holding Settlement “Dog & Pony” shows.

    SCE started laying off rank and file workers and hiring lawyers, lots of Lawyers.

    SCE got the OK from Peevey & Gov. Brown to shutter SanO.

    SCE announces the Decommissioning and seeks immediate access to the Billions in the Decommissioning fund.

    SCE creates phony Community Engagement board and populates it with SCE shills.

    SCE starts to choose to do everything on the cheap, which angers locals which start to dig deeply into dealing with nuclear waste.

    SCE chooses waste casks that are very poor choice.


    Con’t 5

    SCE tells the Navy everything is wonderful at SanO, no contamination anywhere.

    SCE gets caught having “behind closed door” settlement meeting with the CPUC.

    SCE sits by, as heads roll at the CPUC as the CPUC hires $800/hour Lawyers to protect themselves.

    SCE has to cough up emails and admit to ex parte discussions between themselves and many including CPUC ALJ.

    SCE welcomes M. Picker, thanks to Gov. Brown protecting SCE’s interests.

    SCE get new ALJ assigned thanks to Picker, as ALJ Darling retires.

    SCE starts to have to respond to many requests for info from MSM.


    Con’t 6

    Coming SOON:

    SCE will have to revisit Settlement Investigation

    SCE will agree to paying a greater percentage of SanO costs (if not all costs) but will demand that they are held harmless.

    SCE will demand and the CPUC will agree to halt all investigations into wrongdoing.

    SCE will get Gov. Brown’s word to pardon any and all connected with #SanOnofreGate.


Marisa Lagos

Marisa Lagos reports on state politics for KQED’s California Politics and Government Desk, which uses radio, television and online mediums to explore the latest news in California’s Capitol and dig deeper into political influence in the Golden State. Marisa also appears on a weekly podcast analyzing the week’s political news.

Before joining KQED, Marisa worked  at the San Francisco Examiner and Los Angeles Times, and, most recently, for nine years at the San Francisco Chronicle where she covered San Francisco City Hall and state politics, focusing on the California legislature, governor, budget and criminal justice. In 2011, she won a special award for extensive and excellent work in covering California justice issues from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, and also helped lead the Chronicle’s award-winning breaking news coverage of the 2010 San Bruno Pacific Gas & Electric explosion. She has also been awarded a number of fellowships from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York.

Marisa has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She and lives in San Francisco with her two sons and husband. Email: Twitter @mlagos Facebook

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