Brown Vetoes Six Bills to Reform Disgraced Public Utilities Commission

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Governor Brown, concerned that six bills to reform the scandal-plagued Public Utilities Commission (PUC) were regulatory overkill, vetoed all of them. Each of them was unanimously approved by both houses of the Legislature.

Brown wrote in all of his veto messages that he supported the intent to make the commission transparent and accountable. He noted that the authors of two of the bills, AB 1023 and SB 660, needed to engage in some “prudent prioritization” and eliminate “various technical and conflicting issues” that make them “unworkable.”

SB 660 was considered the flagship of the bunch. It would have made it harder for regulators and utility officials to have secret meetings during rate-setting cases. “Without SB 660, the agency has little incentive to work toward a culture of openness and accountability,” co-author Senator Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Critics say the PUC culture is built around its coziness with the entities it regulates and has weakened the state’s infrastructure, endangered public safety, had catastrophic consequences and enriched investors at the expense of taxpayers.

One bill would have established an inspector general in the State Auditor’s Office to monitor the commission. Another made it easier to sue the commission for not providing information in public records. The governor said letting people go to Superior Court to appeal commission denials, instead of having to go to appellate court would clog the system.

One bill would have given lawmakers an opportunity to oversee any legal defense spending by the commission. That one was triggered by the discovery that the PUC had hired outside counsel to defend it against state and federal allegations of influence peddling.

Three of the bills vetoed by Brown were co-authored by incoming Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Los Angeles County).

Those allegations grew out of an investigation of the 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and leveled a neighborhood. During the ensuing investigation of Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) operations and system maintenance, and its relationship with the commission, thousands of back-channel e-mails were discovered, raising questions about doing the public’s business in private.

Some of the e-mail exchanges indicated that PG&E had secretly lobbied to have their choice of administrative law judge picked in a $1.3-billion rate-setting case following the blast.

Others referenced a 2013 meeting in Warsaw, Poland, between then-PUC President Michael Peevey and a top PG&E executive to discuss who should pay for loss of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. The plant was closed in 2012 after investigation of a small nuclear steam leak exposed hundreds of eroded steam tubes, damaged by vibration caused by new steam generators.

 –Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Brown Vetoes CPUC Reform Bills (by Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune)

Jerry Brown Rejects Changes to California Public Utilities Commission (by Alexei Koseff, Sacramento Bee)

Brown Vetoes Bills Designed to Reform State Utilities Regulator (by Jaxon Van Derbeken, San Francisco Chronicle)

Brown Vetoes Transparency Bills for Troubled State Utilities Commission (by Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times)

A “Shocking” Find: Culture of “Lawlessness” at Public Utilities Commission (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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