Liam Dillon
August 1, 2016

A major effort to overhaul the state’s energy regulator surprisingly collapsed after late legislative maneuverings led to the unraveling of the broad coalition that had pushed for changes at the scandal-ridden agency.

The measure would have boosted transparency, strengthened safety rules and shrunk the responsibilities of the California Public Utilities Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the state’s electric and gas utilities.

The PUC has been under scrutiny since an investigation of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno revealed dinner dates, shared talking points and other signs of a close relationship between regulators and utility executives. The furor grew after the 2013 closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California and the recent four-month-long Aliso Canyon gas leak encouraged further criticism of regulators’ oversight of utilities and safety standards.

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown and a trio of lawmakers announced they had agreed on a plan to overhaul the agency, what was supposed to be the culmination of years of bipartisan effort. Brown and the legislators released bullet points detailing the changes and the resulting legislation was expected to pass easily.

While two bills in the package made it to Brown’s desk, the legislation that included the majority of the changes from Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) and a companion measure from Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) never came up for a vote before the Legislature adjourned for the year early Thursday morning.

“We ran out of time and we ran out of consensus,” Hill said.

Under the two measures that failed, the PUC would have been required to increase internal auditing and whistleblowing procedures and spin off control of transportation services such as Uber and Lyft to other agencies — a decision based on concerns the PUC was spread too thin. Similarly, the public would have gained easier access to agency records.

But as the Legislature’s final hours dwindled, details had yet to be nailed down, and the bills remained stuck in policy committees.
Watch Jerry Brown speak about climate change at the Democratic National Convention

Gov. Jerry Brown of California speaks at the Democratic National Convention. More coverage at latimes.com/trailguide.

One major problem emerged last weekend when PUC President Michael Picker objected to a part of the bill that would have made it a misdemeanor for agency employees to knowingly release confidential information, arguing it would have opened up employees to criminal prosecution when responding to public records requests.

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