June 22, 2015, San Franciso–In a scathing report, an independent investigation of CPUC practices and procedures has found that utilities have too much influence over CPUC decision-making. TURN is a sponsor of SB 660, jointly authored by California State Senators Mark Leno and Ben Hueso, which would limit utilities’ ability to influence the CPUC through back-door “ex parte” communications.
The report by law firm Strumwasser and Woocher found that private, ex parte meetings are primarily used by utilities rather than other parties and “fundamentally alter the decision making process.” Strumwasser’s investigation found that shifting the debate from the hearing room to a private meeting gives facts and evidence short shrift in favor of a personal and negotiated approach to finding an acceptable outcome.
Existing rules don’t require disclosure of the substance of communications, exclude ex partes from the legal record, and only require parties to disclose their occurrence, rather than Commissioners or their senior staff, who are often “used as conduits.”
TURN senior attorney Thomas Long said the Strumwasser report highlighted the need for legislative reform of Commission practices. “Back door deals have completely corrupted the Commission’s process. In private meetings that have become the norm at the Commission, utility claims go unchallenged. The Commission should be relying on its staff, not the companies it regulates, to make its factual determinations.”