CA Attorney General Should Not Depend On PUC To Watchdog Utilities

We're sure that California's new Attorney General Xavier Becerra wouldn't want to endanger California's coastline or its residents. The Google Earth photo on the right shows the resting place for millions of tons of nuclear waste from the flawed and shuttered San Onofre nuclear power station. The honeycombs are ready for waste casks not meant to last more than a few decades. By then the ocean will have inundated them, threatening eight million San Diego residents within 50 miles of the facility.

California law holds that nuclear waste must go to a facility constructed and licensed for that purpose. One that can safely contain radioactive waste for thousands of years. Attorney General Becerra has only been on the job for eight weeks, so it's only natural that he follow the policies of his predecessor Kamala Harris. But after a hard look, he should conclude that he needs to take a different course.

Kamala Harris defended a California Coastal Commission permit given to Southern California Edison to create a radioactive waste dump on the beach. In this case, Becerra picked up the baton from Kamala Harris and continued defending the permit. Upon consideration, if Becerra is to protect Californians and their coast, he must stop the siting of a radioactive waste dump where it doesn't belong, and order SCE to pay for its transportation to a licensed facility far from human beings.

Once he reviews the history of Harris's policies on the environment and on energy, Becerra should avoid her footsteps like the plague.

Kamala Harris slow-walked criminal investigations of major investor-owned utilities and defended their right to threaten public health.

The new California Attorney General cannot be expected to understand off the bat the true depth of the Public Utilities Commission's corruption or ties to major investor-owned utilities that the agency has coddled.

He still must learn, though, that regulators are in bed with major investor-owned utilities, greenlighting far more billion-dollar natural gas power plants than we need and otherwise shielding them from the consequences of shoddy maintenance and accidents.

Becerra wrongly referred our request that he investigate a brazen play by Southern California Gas to manipulate natural gas supplies in the Los Angeles area back to the PUC itself. If he understood the PUC's corruption, he would launch an independent effort.

Our allegations of market manipulation were born out of evidence provided by SoCalGas's parent Sempra to justify the reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas reserve.  

Attorney General Becerra’s response was to assure us that the PUC would add this evidence to its review of whether the state can permanently live without the facility where a well blowout caused the largest methane leak in US history and thousands of nearby residents to flee.

But we know already that the PUC and other energy regulators aren't likely to give this evidence a second look based on all they are doing to make sure the reserve reopens.

The shoddy Aliso reserve is not necessary to ensure power reliability in the Los Angeles area. It's more of a piggybank for Sempra to help companies buy low and sell high.To counter that argument, the PUC, the California Energy Commission and the state's grid operator have worked with SoCalGas to twice threaten the Los Angeles area with blackout blackmail by inflating natural gas demand and understimating its supply.

Those threatened summer and winter blackouts never happened because of PUC-ordered mitigation measures. Those measures are working so well that the utility had to find a way to create an artificial supply shortage.

The third week of January, the PUC played possum, allowing SoCalGas to order 30 percent less natural gas straight off of pipelines than it needed to meet supply. It has made no move to punish SoCalGas for neglecting to do that.

The California Attorney General has a very important role to play in setting things right with the regulation of major investor-owned utilities, and indeed at the PUC itself.

He has a role to play in determining whether the Aliso Canyon blowout happened as a result of negligence and whether SoCalGas or its parent, Sempra, deserve prosecution for sickening and displacing thousands of residents.

Becerra must also continue the criminal investigation begun under Harris into former disgraced PUC President Michael Peevey's illegal deal with SCE in a Warsaw hotel room. That deal stuck ratepayers with 70 percent of the $4.7 billion tab for shutting down the flawed San Onofre nuclear power plant that could also result in a nuclear waste dump in their midst.

He can also reactivate a probe of Harris's into Peevey and his private communications with Pacific Gas & Electric over the San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight, injured dozens, and leveled a neighborhood. The PUC has never been held to account for its role in the tragedy, though PG&E is now a federally convicted felon.

The PUC can be trusted to do one thing well--defend utilities from culpability and any other damage to their stock price. For history not to be repeated, Becerra must tread a different path.

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