State lawmakers' attempts to reign in the California Public Utilities Commission are not working as they had hoped. It appears that rate payers and California residents are going to bear the brunt of the legislators' punishment.
The CPUC has been in hot water over its cozy relationship with the utility companies it is supposed to regulate -- so much hot water the PUC hired outside lawyers to defend them. As it turns out, very expensive lawyers.
The investigation into the San Bruno pipeline explosion ultimately led to accusations of influence peddling and judge shopping by both PG&E and CPUC, who was supposed to regulate the utility. CPUC spent $5 million on outside attorneys to defend itself.
"If the commissioners are doing something wrong, they should pony up and say this is what we're doing wrong and take the brunt of it," said State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.
Hill, who represents San Bruno, helped pass $5 million in cuts to CPUC's budget to send a message that hiring the lawyers was wrong.
CPUC Executive Director Timothy Sullivan then decided to make up for the missing $5 million by cutting funds and delaying implementation of programs, including Hill's efforts to update security measures for the state's electrical infrastructure.
Those measures were approved after gunmen sprayed more than 1,000 bullets into the Metcalf power station in April 2013.
"What it tells us and what I think it tells the public is they are prioritizing criminal defense attorneys over electrical grid infrastructure safety," Hill said. "That's what it tells me."
Sullivan and all CPUC commissioners were unavailable for comment on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the head of the utility watchdog group TURN said delaying safety programs, computer upgrades and inspection of electrical plants is not punishing the CPUC, it is punishing Californians.
"It's simply not fair for ratepayers to be caught in a pissing match between the legislature and the CPUC," said Mark Toney with TURN.