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New Chief California Regulator to Revamp Agency

At his first meeting leading the five-member California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Michael Picker set a new tone Thursday, emphasizing more internal focus on safety and the regulatory agency's organization. Only one relatively minor energy item was on the agenda.

Noting broad policy issues, such as Gov. Jerry Brown's call for a move to 50% renewable energy (see Daily GPI, Jan. 6), Picker urged his colleagues to address CPUC transparency and effectiveness, particularly in the role it plays in ensuring public safety in the energy, transportation and telecommunication industries.

Picker was named by Brown to be CPUC president after a year on the regulatory panel and the somewhat tumultuous exit of its longtime head, Michael Peevey (see Daily GPI, Dec. 24, 2014). Picker acknowledged that he asked the governor to appoint him to head the commission and he outlined his initial priorities for the regulatory body.

The ongoing scandal involving the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) email proceeding (see Daily GPI, Jan. 14) was acknowledged by Picker, who said there needs to be a review of all emails in recent years between the CPUC and the major utilities that it oversees.

Picker challenged his colleagues to take more of a hands-on management approach and to revamp the way agency staff carries out the commission's responsibility for public safety.

"I look forward to the chance to figure out a new way of doing things going forward that also meets our legal obligation and brings us closer together as a group," said Commissioner Mike Florio, who began serving the fifth year of his six-year term on the CPUC.

The CPUC's newest appointee, Liane Randolph, formerly the general counsel in the state Department of Natural Resources, said the CPUC has important governance issues to tackle, and in addition, Brown's latest goals for climate change and renewable energy. She said the regulatory commission and energy sector are in transition, "and I am really excited to be part of that transition."

Picker said he thinks the five governor-appointees need to separate their roles in managing the regulatory body, and to do this through a commissioner subcommittee structure, one examining financing/administrative issues, and the other policy/governance.

"We ought to really step back and examine our purpose, mission and vision in the changing world we are engaging," Picker told his colleagues. "This means really figuring out how we articulate and carry out our values."

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