CPUC Reform on Sacramento’s Radar

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, Feb. 11, 2005 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

Two bills have been introduced in the new legislative session relating to reform of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

SB 15 (Martha Escutia, D-Whittier) the new chair of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee, changes a CPUC procedural deadline. SB 204 (Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey) imposes tough new conflict of interest restrictions on commissioners. Among other things, the bill precludes CPUC membership by any person, who, during the two-year period preceding appointment, received a substantial portion of his or her income from any person or corporation subject to CPUC regulation.

Both measures are "spot" bills and therefore likely to be significantly amended as they move through the legislative process.

Meanwhile, the Schwarzenegger Administration is considering possible CPUC reforms. The California Performance Review, issued last fall, recommends transferring some CPUC functions to a newly-created Infrastructure Department. The Administration is in the midst of deciding which of the CPR recommendations to endorse. CPUC reforms need not be part of the CPR process, however. The governor could opt to support legislative efforts not addressed in the CPR. Additionally, with two new appointees on the CPUC and a commission president generally supportive of the governor’s policies, the Administration might choose to concentrate its efforts on CPUC reforms from within.

The deadline for bill introduction is February 18th. Significant reform efforts might be put into legislative form by then – at least in the form of a "spot" bill – but it is more likely that it will be months before any substantive proposals are put forward either by legislators or the governor.

PUC reform has been a much-discussed but hardly acted-upon issue. The last major reforms occurred in 1999 (SB 33, which allows the governor to designate the CPUC president from among existing members) and 1996 (SB 960, which significantly revised CPUC administrative procedures and deadlines). This is due in large part to the resistance by the CPUC and the political will that must be marshaled in order to accomplish significant reform. Further undercutting reform efforts is the better working relationship between the CPUC and its sister agency, the California Energy Commission. The joint agency Energy Action Plan, adopted in 2003, established shared goals and specific actions by the CEC, CPUC, and the now-defunct California Power Authority, and continues to serve as a blueprint for implementation of the state’s energy policies.
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