Capitol Alert

AM Alert: Senate investigates refinery explosion, gas price increase

A structure is damaged after an explosion in a processing facility at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance on Feb. 18, 2015.
A structure is damaged after an explosion in a processing facility at the ExxonMobil refinery in Torrance on Feb. 18, 2015. AP/Daily Breeze

A fiery explosion last month at an oil refinery in Torrance injured four people and sent ash spewing into the surrounding community. Crucial production at the facility has shut down as the state investigates, driving up gas prices in California.

The incident will be the subject of a joint hearing by the Senate committees on energy, utilities and communication and environmental quality at 6 p.m. at Torrance City Hall, addressing the emergency response and safety concerns of living next to a refinery. Local residents, workers, firefighters, the South Coast air pollution control agency and representatives from ExxonMobil are all slated to testify.

A follow-up hearing later this month will examine the effects of the supply disruption on fuel costs. On Monday, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León told The Bee Capitol Bureau that he has some questions about whether the tremendous jump in gas prices in recent weeks is entirely legitimate.

“If there is an explosion in a refinery in California, does that mean 40 million Californians have to suffer the consequences?” he said.

VIDEO: It’s hard to say Los Angeles has a democracy when fewer than 10 percent of voters participate, Dan Walters says.

WHOSE UNIVERSITY?: The twists and turns continue in the battle over higher education funding. This week, the University of California announced it would cap enrollment for resident students next year unless the state kicks in more money. Will Gov. Jerry Brown ultimately give in? University employees and students are trying to change his mind. The Reclaim CA Higher Education Coalition, composed of faculty, worker and student unions across the state’s three public college systems, will rally for increased funding, 12:30 p.m. on the west steps of the Capitol, before visiting with legislators and delivering a joint letter to the governor.

EX PARTE OF YOUR WORLD: The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, will hold a hearing on ex parte communications as part of its review of California’s open meeting laws, 9:30 a.m. in Room 437 of the Capitol. It’s the second panel about the topic this week; the Senate committee that oversees the California Public Utilities Commission has also launched an inquiry into its communication policies following the revelation last fall of back-channel e-mail exchanges between former President Michael Peevey and a PG&E executive.

TAX TALK: As Brown loves to point out during his budget news conferences, California’s budget cycle is highly cyclical. David Gamage, an assistant professor of law at UC Berkeley, will discuss how to change the state’s tax policies to better protect California from future downturns, noon at the UC Center Sacramento on K Street.

NEW JOB: Congratulations to Kathy Dresslar, who served as chief of staff to former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who has joined the children’s health advocacy group The Children’s Partnership as their director of governmental affairs in Sacramento.

Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.