The recent reopening of the Aliso Canyon natural gas reserve, source of the largest methane leak in U.S. history, should remind state lawmakers that regulation is as worthy of their focus as legislation.
A confirmation hearing on Wednesday for Gov. Jerry Brown’s top aide on oil and gas to the Public Utilities Commission gives the state Senate an opportunity to set the record straight on Aliso Canyon and the Achilles’ heel of the Brown administration.
Brown’s regulators have pandered to the state’s oil, gas and utility sectors at the expense of ratepayers and the public health. Nowhere is that as evident as in the reopening of Aliso at the request of SEMPRA despite the lack of findings on the blowout’s cause from a state investigation and despite a study commissioned by Los Angeles County that the facility is not needed for energy reliability.
To add insult to injury, Brown’s sister, Kathleen, has made more than $1 million as a SEMPRA board member since joining two years into her brother’s term. SEMPRA is the parent of San Diego Gas and Electric as well as Southern California Gas and, like the state’s two other investor-owned utilities, has seen skyrocketing stock growth under Brown’s tenure.
By contrast, the public has bankrolled an excess of natural-gas powered electric capacity for which ratepayers are paying billions too much, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.
Brown has turned the PUC into a closely held subsidiary of his administration despite its constitutional mandate for independence. Of the five sitting commissioners, four are among his closest aides and one is his former appointee.
The Senate should reject the confirmation of Cliff Rechtshaffen to the PUC based on his role in one of the saddest chapters in the state’s regulatory history. He dismissed tough oil and gas regulators at the behest of one of California’s largest oil companies, Occidental Petroleum, then weakened safety standards. The undoing of these regulations led to many crises, including Aliso Canyon.
It’s now on the Senate to demand a full accounting of these incidents from Rechtshaffen.
Jamie Court is president of the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog. He can be contacted at [email protected].