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CPUC Takes the Offensive on Legislative Reform of Its Operations

Under siege from critical state lawmakers who are seeking a constitutional amendment aimed at its complete makeover, the five-member governor-appointed California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday voted unanimously to sponsor six regulatory reform bills in the state legislature this year.

The CPUC plans to submit three bills in each legislative house -- Assembly and Senate -- to address a number of consumer-related issues, including more transparency, accountability and regulatory efficiency by the constitutionally based agency that oversees energy, telecommunications, transportation, water and other industries.

Earlier this year, a group of lawmakers in the Assembly unveiled an effort to change the state's constitution to shut down the CPUC, which has come under increased political and consumer criticism in the past two years (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4). The proposal would shift to a variety of agencies the CPUC's current authority over natural gas, electric, water and telecommunications utilities, along with trains, public transit and taxis, leaving the successor as perhaps only a gas/electric regulatory body.

In taking its counter action, the CPUC said its proposed six measures will position it "to better serve California consumers," and the proposals have bipartisan support in the Democratic-dominated state legislature. Regulators expect the bills to be heard in committee in both houses in the first two weeks of April.

The Assembly bills are aimed at state audit compliance (AB 2168), contracting transparency (AB 1651) and dispute resolution (AB 2861). In the Senate, the proposals deal with general accountability (SB 1222), fund modernization (SB 1055) and regulatory efficiency (SB 1112). The measures are mostly administrative and don't deal with current regulatory powers.

In response to internal initiatives from CPUC President Michael Picker last year, the regulatory body is making "steady incremental progress toward reform," according to CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan.

The six measures, coupled with the positions taken earlier by the CPUC on two other pending bills (SB 215 and SB 512) "demonstrate our agency's commitment to meaningful change," said Sullivan, promising more collaboration between the state regulators and lawmakers.

SB 215 deals with disqualifying commissioners on cases due to bias or conflicts, and SB 512 deals with the criteria for the CPUC's annual report to the legislature on the handling and timing of its regulatory caseload as well as requiring that the San Francisco-based CPUC to hold at least six of its business meetings annually in Sacramento.

The CPUC last summer held an unprecedented public hearing on reforming the regulatory panel's inner workings, but much of the feedback it received pointed toward proposed legislative reforms (see Daily GPI, Aug. 14, 2015).

There are also a number of bills that have been introduced in the aftermath of the Aliso Canyon underground storage well leak that could impact the regulatory body (see Shale Daily, March 10 and Daily GPI, Jan. 13).

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