Legislators vote for fewer chats between CPUC and utilities

by Steve Blum • ,

One drink too many.

Several changes to the way the California Public Utilities Commission operates are on Governor Brown’s desk. The California legislature passed several bills that would tighten the rules for who commissioners can talk to while proceedings are underway – formally known as ex parte communications – require more public disclosure and make other administrative changes.

The major changes are in senate bill 660, authored by Ben Hueso (D – Chula Vista) and Mark Leno (D – San Francisco). Past abuses were cited as the reason for the change

During the summer and fall of 2014, PG&E, bowing to legal pressure from the City of San Bruno, began to release a growing number of emails between the utility and CPUC officials. PG&E released 65,000 emails from over a five-year period that PG&E says it believes “violated CPUC rules governing ex parte communications.” The initial release of emails revealed efforts by PG&E executives to influence the CPUC’s assignment of the administrative law judge to the San Bruno proceeding. Many of the other emails exposed regular, private, familiar communications between PG&E and certain CPUC commissioners, including former CPUC President Michael Peevey and current commissioner [Mike] Florio, as well as senior CPUC officials…

Since PG&E’s initial release of the emails, both the state Attorney General and the United States Department of Justice have opened investigations into communications between the CPUC and regulated entities…Investigators working with the Attorney General’s Office have raided the CPUC offices and the homes of former CPUC…President Peevey and PG&E former-Vice President Brian Cherry.

The final language of the bills is watered down from what was originally proposed. Earlier versions would have stripped the CPUC president of most of his authority to run the day to day operations of the commission.