Capitol Alert

California PUC tear-down measure clears first hurdle

In this Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, file photo, a Porter Ranch resident holds a protest sign over a gas leak at the Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon Storage Facility.
In this Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, file photo, a Porter Ranch resident holds a protest sign over a gas leak at the Southern California Gas Company's Aliso Canyon Storage Facility. AP

California’s embattled utilities regulator moved one step closer to losing its autonomy Wednesday as an Assembly panel passed a measure to overhaul the Public Utilities Commission.

The PUC has taken heavy criticism as several incidents – the Aliso Canyon methane leak, a lethal gas-line explosion in San Bruno, and a San Diego-area nuclear plant closure deal that angered some ratepayers – have unfolded in industries it oversees. Critics contend the agency’s coziness with industry has made it a complacent regulator.

“The litany of complaints has been a mile long,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, noting “the tragedies in San Bruno and Porter Ranch and the distrust and discontent in every part of the state.”

The solution, according to Gatto, is to start anew. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 11, if passed by voters, would strip out the PUC’s constitutional protection and allow the Legislature to dissolve and reorganize the entity.

No one opposed the bill, which cleared the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee 9-1, though a representative of the union that represents PUC employees expressed concern about what would happen to them.

The sole no vote came from Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, who said the bill was too vague. Should voters pass the constitutional amendment, legislators would have broad discretion to decide what happens to the PUC’s duties.

“We should have given some more thought to what this would actually be,” Chávez said.

This agency was created under Gov. Hiram Johnson when he was running on the Bull Moose ticket.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita

Gatto said the constant criticism proves that the PUC is stretched too thin as it oversees a portfolio that includes electrical generation, gas lines, telecommunications and ride services. Fellow legislators from both parties agreed, with Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, warning that a “regulatory scheme frozen in time has resulted in a slow-moving train wreck.”

“This agency was created under Gov. Hiram Johnson when he was running on the Bull Moose ticket,” said Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita. “Clearly it does not affect today’s regulatory environment.”

Passage would require bipartisan two-thirds votes in two houses, and the amendment would go to the ballot without needing a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown, evading the potential reluctance of a governor who vetoed PUC bills that drew broad support from legislators in both parties.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert

  Comments