SANTA MONICA – California citizens' rights group Consumer Watchdog recently created an online portal where it published more than 100,000 emails and other digital documents chronicling alleged misdeeds and corruption among utility executives, attorneys, Wall Street investment bankers and Gov. Jerry Brown's administration.
Dubbed the PUC Papers, the documentation includes correspondence between officials of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Brown administration and other parties in the wake of the San Bruno natural gas pipeline explosion and Porter Ranch natural gas storage system leak.
Their publication has stoked already high levels of public anger and outrage.
"It's difficult to adequately express the frustration I feel," State Assemblyman Mike Gatto told the Northern California Record when asked to comment on the PUC Papers' publication. "It's rare that a month goes by in which I don't hear word of some new scandal."
Consumer Watchdog's publication of the PUC Papers "is a natural outgrowth from recent events and an expression of the high level of public frustration regarding the behavior of and manner in which public officials and industry executives manage power and energy production, transmission and distribution and deal with critical issues of public health and safety," Gatto said.
A Democrat, Gatto was appointed chairman of the State Assembly Committee on Utilities & Commerce late last year.
"On Dec. 29 last year I was thrown into the midst of the Porter Ranch gas leak," he said. "Just when we thought issues were being dealt with properly, we hear about these emails."
Gatto has been vocal in his criticism in the State Assembly and in public. At present he's proposing to reorganize and restructure the CPUC. In contrast to other state regulatory agencies, state law requires more than new legislation to be passed in order to change the CPUC's mandate and charter, he pointed out.
"My proposed constitutional amendment to reorganize and restructure the CPUC passed an assembly vote last week with 61 of 80 voting in favor," he said.
Gatto expects the Senate to take the matter up within a month.
Co-authored by Republican Assemblyman Scott Wilk, the proposed constitutional amendment has broad-based, bipartisan support in the state legislature, according to Gatto.
"It's been a bipartisan effort from day one," he said. "A constitutional amendment needs a super-majority vote [two-thirds in favor] in order to pass."
The main thrust of any resulting effort to reorganize the CPUC should be focused on dividing and devolving CPUC's regulation of numerous and varied public services and infrastructure to other agencies so that it can concentrate its resources on power and energy, Gatto elaborated.
In addition to power and energy, the CPUC is responsible for regulating key aspects of California's telecommunications and internet industries and markets, as well as the critical issue of water resources and management.
Its regulatory authority and responsibility extends much further to include aspects of road and railroad transportation, including transportation of petroleum fuels, liquids and natural gas by trucks and railroad, as well as inspection of limousine and taxi services – including Uber and Lyft – hot air balloons, party buses and moving companies, Gatto continued.
"You've heard the phrase regarding banks being 'too big to fail.' The CPUC is too big to succeed," he said. "It really is a fourth branch of state government."