CPUC Reform Bills On Governor’s Desk
by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle
Several bills aimed at reforming the California Public Utilities Commission are on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, including a measure that would create an inspector general to investigate wrongdoing allegations at the agency and legislation cracking down on back-channel lobbying by utility executives.
Democratic state Sens. Mark Leno of San Francisco and Ben Hueso of Logan Heights (San Diego County) co-authored SB660, which would ban ex parte communications — the closed-door, one-sided meetings between regulators and utilities — in rate-setting cases.
The bill would limit, but not ban, back-channel contacts with commissioners in regulatory and rule-making cases. Those talks would have to be disclosed by the five members of the commission, all of whom are appointed by the governor. There is no reporting requirement at present for such rule-making lobbying, and critics say that has fostered secret influence peddling.
The perils of back-channel communications became evident last year with the release of e-mails and other documents revealing contacts between Pacific Gas and Electric Co. executives and regulators.
Those e-mails showed that PG&E had secretly lobbied to get the judge it wanted to hear a $1.3 billion rate-setting case arising out of the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion of 2010. Other documents revealed possible horsetrading between then-commission President Michael Peevey and a PG&E vice president, in which Peevey appeared to dangle his support in regulatory cases in exchange for utility backing for his pet causes.
In June, a law firm retained as a commission consultant said ex parte meetings were “fundamentally unfair” and “systematically favor the interests of utilities and other well-funded parties.”
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