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California Lawmakers Kill CPUC Reforms

California power lines, Feb. 21, 2011
Robert Couse-Baker
California power lines, Feb. 21, 2011

Consumer advocates are mourning the demise of several legislative efforts to reform the California Public Utilities Commission.

California's legislative session ended this week without a vote on a number of key measures.

Legislators failed to act on bills that would add an auditor to review commission rulings and one that would put limits on when retired utility executives could serve on the commission.

Lawmakers also killed a bill that would allow PUC decisions to be challenged in court.

"One of the most important things is being able to actually sue the PUC in Superior Court. You can't do that right now," said Liza Tucker of Consumer Watchdog. "Right now you can go to the Supreme Court or the court of appeals and mostly you don't get anywhere."

Another blow to CPUC critics came when an appellate court judge decided not to allow a public records request for emails exchanged between the governor's office and the public utilities commission.

Questions have been raised about Gov. Jerry Brown's connection to the energy industry in California, and Attorney Mike Aguirre is seeking the communications to see how the correspondence affected the deal to close the San Onofre nuclear power plant. The rules need to be changed, according to Aguirre, so a superior court judge decides the fate of open records act requests.

"What is so powerful about the Open Records Act is to have a superior court judge that you always go to the first instance for the litigation. And to have that judge actually review the records against the exemption to see if they're exempt," Aguirre said.

The commission has been under fire for two years for its communications with utilities it regulates. Aguirre is considering challenging the decision in the state Supreme Court.

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