Gov. Jerry Brown deserves credit for signing into law several pieces of legislation this year aimed at reforming the troubled Public Utilities Commission and advancing regulatory transparency in California. Upon signing this legislative package, Brown said, “These important reforms cannot wait another year” and called upon the PUC “to use its existing authority to take immediate action.”
Even so, wholesale institutional changes remain elusive and necessary. Critics of the commission remain concerned and are right to be asking what comes next. The governor has the opportunity to further right the ship to help meet the goals and objectives his office outlined for CPUC reform.
In addressing a lack of governance, transparency and accountability at the PUC, one element of the equation was overlooked – an examination of the appointed commissioners themselves.
The commission as a whole has demonstrated a lack of accountability and has lost the trust of the public it is sworn to protect. PUC President Michael Picker has been candid about the commission’s challenge to reform itself and “play well” with other state agencies. Picker has a mandate from the governor to reform the commission from the inside and not wait for further legislative action.
Under the commission’s watch, Californians have witnessed or experienced disaster after disaster leading to egregious environmental impacts and climate change implications that cannot be undone. Additionally, we have seen protracted decision-making, the shifting of cost burdens to ratepayers and an overall lack of accountability.
An obvious next step on the path toward solving many of the PUC’s vexing challenges are changes to the commission itself. Some of the current commissioners – particularly the longest-serving – have lost public trust, and basic PUC reform is not enough to gain back that trust. California needs commissioners dedicated to acting within the governor’s reform agenda.
With Commissioners Mike Florio and Catherine Sandoval’s appointment terms coming to an end, the governor has the opportunity to replace, rather than reappoint, and send a clear message to the public that accountability begins now.
The record of this commission demands an infusion of new blood, and the governor should use his power of appointment to make it clear that accountability is the new order of the day across the many industries regulated by the PUC.
The governor is in the perfect position to continue his reforms by replacing these commissioners with new candidates who can restore trust and build a commission dedicated to public safety, governance, transparency and accountability.
The PUC requires a makeover. The process should start now.