Time to Reform the Scandal-Ridden CPUC

It’s hard to find a region of our state that’s not concerned with the California Public Utilities Commission – from a pipeline explosion in San Bruno to a colossal gas leak in Porter Ranch.

Despite additional allegations of serious ethical lapses and other misconduct the Commission has failed to adopt meaningful changes from within. And legislative efforts to bring needed reforms to the commission have all been vetoed.

So I have proposed a broad reform that would make the PUC more focused, more specialized and more accountable.

The proposal is simple: The Legislature will place on the ballot a constitutional amendment asking the people of the state of California to remove the constitutional protections of the PUC (that make it untouchable and unaccountable) and to rethink its broad mandates, replacing it with more nimble and functional agencies. The new constitutional provision would further instruct the Legislature to reconstitute the duties of the PUC to maximize public safety, ratepayer protection and the ability of the public to participate and intervene in regulatory proceedings in the most transparent way possible.

It’s worth emphasizing that this reform would not do away with any of the functional protections we ratepayers currently enjoy.  But it would ask Californians to come together to rethink our regulatory regime. For example, should the commission focus on the arcane details of limousine safety while gas pipelines are blowing up?

As part of my investigation into the Porter Ranch gas leak, we discovered that in 2014 the Commission was notified in writing of serious corrosion and the high likelihood of a leak on the aging infrastructure in the gas reservoir, and yet it appears it did nothing. Would this calamity have been avoided or handled better if there was one small, specialized, accountable agency focusing on one thing (gas pipeline safety) and one thing only? Could the public better hold regulators accountable if dealing with such an agency? The answer to these questions is clearly “yes.” And that is the same reason lawmakers and the public should vote “yes” on my reform measure to break up the PUC.

Mike Gatto is the chairman of the Utilities & Commerce Committee and the longest-serving current member of the State Assembly. He represents California’s 43rd Assembly District, which includes Los Angeles, La Crescenta, Glendale and Burbank.

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