Leno Bill Improving CPUC Transparency Advances

South San Francisco, CA    August 22, 2016  Press Release Senator Mark Leno Office marklenolgog

SB 215 is part of a package of CPUC reform bills

SACRAMENTO- Senator Mark Leno’s bill to reform the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) by increasing transparency and commissioner accountability was approved on the Assembly Floor today. SB 215 is part of a package of Commission reforms agreed upon by Governor Brown, Assemblymember Mike Gatto, and Senators Jerry Hill and Mark Leno to improve governance, accountability, oversight and transparency of the California Public Utilities Commission.

“Public trust in the California Public Utilities Commission has been frayed by two massive natural gas disasters that caused loss of life and property, sickness, and environmental catastrophe,” said Senator Mark Leno. “The reforms included in SB 215 will put a stop to secret commissioner meetings with utility executives, increase transparency, and mete out costly penalties for those who would violate the public trust by breaking ex parte communication rules intended to protect ratepayer interests.”

A natural gas explosion that destroyed a San Bruno neighborhood in 2010 killing eight people, and the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history that sickened thousands of residents in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles last fall, have undermined trust in the CPUC’s ability to protect public safety, the environment, and California consumers. Emails that were made public appear to show private decision making between the agency and the entities it regulates on how to assign substantial costs to ratepayers, efforts to select a rate-setting hearing judge, and where not to look in an investigation into the San Bruno disaster.

SB 215 seeks to enhance transparency and accountability at the CPUC by reforming the Commission’s ex parte communication rules. Currently, CPUC rules permit substantive ex parte communications between commissioners and “any person with any interest before the Commission.” Ex parte refers to communications on behalf of or involving only one party and in the absence of other parties, such as those representing ratepayer interests. Current CPUC rules do not require commissioners to report these communications.

SB 215 reforms the CPUC ex parte communication rules by requiring Commissioners to disclose their ex parte meetings, requiring utilities to provide substantive descriptions of what is said in such meetings, prohibiting judge shopping by utilities, increasing penalties for violations of the rules, and reforming the standard for disqualification of a commissioner or administrative law judge for bias. The bill also charges the Attorney General with the enforcement of ex parte rules in Superior Court when the violators are commissioners or other CPUC officials.

“This bill replaces the Commission’s culture of coziness with utilities into a culture of compliance that prevents all parties from exercising undue influence,” said Mark Toney, Executive Director of TURN–The Utility Reform Network, which is the sponsor of SB 215. “The reforms in SB 215 require meaningful accountability from both commissioners and utilities, and put an end to the worst abuses of power that we have recently seen.”

In addition to TURN, the bill is supported by the Consumer Federation of California, Sierra Club California, and the California Environmental Justice Alliance, among others. Before heading to the Governor, SB 215 will be sent to the Senate for concurrence, where it is expected to pass.

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