A veteran telecommunications attorney and former Federal Communications Commission member who is a strong free market advocate, Rachelle Chong, had her appointment to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) take a detour last Wednesday when a state Senate committee held up deciding whether she will be able to serve out the rest of her term. The head of the state legislative body and also committee chairman, Sen. Don Perata, publicly committed to taking a committee vote Wednesday.

Perata also promised that Chong’s confirmation would go to the full Senate before her one-year window for approval runs out on Friday, according to a utility lobbyist monitoring last week’s hearing in which Chong was criticized as being too pro-industry by a legislative analyst for the consumer group, The Utility Reform Network (TURN).

TURN and another group, the Consumer Federation of California, spoke out against Chong, an appointee of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who strongly favors market-based solutions. Support for her staying on the CPUC came from the Natural Resources Defense Council, California Independent Energy Producers Association, and a solar energy alliance, PVNow.

Chong was appointed to complete the term of Susan Kennedy, who Schwarzenegger tabbed to be his chief of staff. Her term expires the end of 2008, and if she had to leave, the five-member CPUC would have two vacancies because Schwarzenegger has not appointed a replacement for Geoffrey Brown, whose six-year term ended last month.

Chong told the state legislators that because she is pro-market doesn’t mean she is anti-consumer,. and she reiterated her support for the state’s solar initiative, energy efficiency programs, renewable energy expansion and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions.

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