BILL TO REFORM CALIF. PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION PASSES COMMITTEE BY 12-1 VOTE

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By Miriam Raftery

April 24, 2016 (Sacramento) -- Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s  proposed constitutional amendment, ACA 11, to restructure California's regulatory agencies has passed the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee by a 12 to 1 vote.  

The strong bipartisan support comes in the wake of a series of scandals involving the CPUC, including allegations of backroom dealings to protect PG&E after the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion and controversies over charging ratepayers for utility mistakes that led to closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Stations.

Mike Aguirre, former attorney for the City of San Diego, appeared as a witness in favor of reforming the Commission, asking that an updated copy of the Aguirre & Severson Report on Malfeasance and Institutional Corruption at the California Public Utilities Commission be officially entered into the record, as well as other smoking gun documents that implicate top officials at the CPUC.  That report raises concerns over issues ranging from wildfires caused by SDG&E lines to the burial of nuclear wastes at San Onofre. It also chronicles allegations of corruption and cover-ups involving top CPUC officials.

“The public cannot have confidence the CPUC will protect their interests while Edison establishes one of the largest nuclear waste sites in the world in North County San Diego (3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste),” Aguirre’s report concludes.

Gatto’s constitutional amendment seeks to modernize the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), reassign regulation of industries unrelated to the CPUC’s core functions to more appropriate state bodies, and provide greater accountability to Californians. The measure received praise from colleagues on both sides of the aisle during its hearing.

“The CPUC is spread too thin, and has too many issues within its jurisdiction,” said Gatto, a Los Angeles Democrat who chairs the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. “My colleagues made it clear in committee that now is time to think about how we can make the CPUC more focused, specialized, and accountable.”

The recent gas well leak in Aliso Canyon, which displaced thousands of residents in Porter Ranch, Granada Hills, and surrounding communities and resulted in over 87,000 metric tons of methane being pumped into the air, has reinvigorated concerns that the CPUC has too much on its plate. The investigation into the Aliso Canyon gas well leak is still ongoing, but the CPUC’s response to the crisis has frustrated many in the community. Californians are hesitant to trust that CPUC regulators are able to properly exercise oversight of utilities or act decisively to protect communities under the current system, which cannot be changed without this initiative.

The proposal to modernize the CPUC and provide greater accountability for Californians is joint authored by Assemblymembers Marc Levine (D-Marin County) and Scott Wilk (R-Santa Clarita) and is co-authored by five bipartisan members of the Assembly.

“I believe this is an opportunity to make the CPUC what it should have been in the first place,” said Assemblymember Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood) at the hearing. “Which is looking at safety, rate setting, and things they are experts at.”

“ACA 11 will be the first step in making sure that, no matter where you live in California, you can sleep safely at night knowing that a gas line won’t explode and that necessary protections have been put in place so that our electrical infrastructure is safe and reliable and not subject to risks from terrorist attacks to cyber mischief,” stated Gatto.

The measure will now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.  If approved by the Legislature it would ultimately go onto a statewide ballot, requiring a 2/3 approval by voters to become part of the state's constitution.

Get the proposed constitutional amendment here.

Watch the broadcast of the April 20th hearing in the Utilities and Commerce Committee at http://www.calchannel.com/video-on-demand/.